The Polka Dot Princess!
YAYOI KUSAMA: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow
While we were babymooning in Tasmania, we found ourselves entranced by a Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. It was quite unlike anything we'd ever experienced - oddly bulbous, phallic shaped huge balloonish sculptures obliterated by a black polka dots in an eye-squintingly bright yellow room titled "'Dots Obsession', 2016".
So when we heard Yayoi Kusama was to have a solo exhibition at National Gallery Singapore this summer; we knew we'd have to make our way down from Kuala Lumpur asap!
As such June held two major events for us – the birth of our little one and the unveiling of over 120 artworks, spanning 70 years of Kusama’s creativity!
After a period of rest, recovery, and family visits, we applied for her first passport and arrived in Singapore just a couple weeks before the end of the "Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of the Rainbow" exhibition.
This is the first time there has been such a major survey of Kusama’s artwork in Southeast Asia. After a major renovation in recent years, the National Gallery Singapore provides stunning spaces to house these pieces in a visually and spatially dynamic way.
It’s not often that we get the chance to experience such a vast breadth of artwork from one artist – a lifetime of compulsion and creativity bursting at the seams.
From her earlier work in New York in the 1950s & 60s, where she worked with people, props, photographs and the peppering of unexpected polka dots against sharp black and white backdrops to her most recent sculptures and brand new artworks – all are on brilliant display.
Society often proclaims artists as creative, tortured souls. It’s a narrative that’s as vivid as the image of Van Gogh’s ear cut off in a fit of fury and in the case of Kusama, half of her life spent within the confines of a mental institution seems almost sensationalistic and certainly intriguing.
Kusama is the Gaga before Lady Gaga, the Sia before Sia. In her eclectic wigs and flamboyant outfits, you can trace the authenticity of her character through the decades – and particularly through the photographs of New York City in the 1950s and 60s among the war protests, and Warhol parties, she was as she is now.
Learning that obsessive compulsive behaviors, hallucinations and nerve disorders resulted in her decision to live within a mental hospital seems understandable, considering how many millions of dots, infinity nets and pumpkins she’s created – the drive, the consistency, the vividness, to continue to produce such prolific amounts of art seems compulsive and phenomenal.
The simple polka dot, applied ad infinitum becomes the artist's approach to obliteration of the noun and ultimately, of the self.
Hospitalized since 1975, she continues to create at a nearby studio, although in more recent years as she nears her late 80s, she also travels via a polka dotted wheelchair. She describes how interconnected her mental illness is to her artwork in an earlier interview with Bomb Magazine back in 1999:
“My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.”
I’ve been visiting modern art museums and galleries since I was a child and in more recent years often in Tokyo, and only very rarely remember coming across her artwork. I wondered why all the sudden, there’s this tidal wave of her work – considering her impressive retrospective in 2015 titled “Yayoi Kusama: Obsession Infinita’ or this latest one “YAYOI KUSAMA: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow’’.
It seems that she has been re-discovered of late. Her artwork pops out, the bright candy colored dots make for the perfect selfie backdrop, the larger than life sculptures spotted and Instagramable.
She's rightly assumed the mantle of Pop Art Queen, having lead the vanguard of the Pop Art and Minimalist Movements with her obsessional artwork of repeating motifs!
The art that seems to draw the crowds these days all have this element of impressiveness; experiencing the art directly rather than as a bystander watching the Mona Lisa from 15 feet back. People are drawn in flocks to exhibits such as Future World at the ArtScience Museum where The Crystal Universe shimmers and sparkles all around you, or Kusama's The Infinity Mirror Room at the BROAD, or The Rain Room at LAMCA .
You step into these immersive mini-verses and get to interact, and indicative of the current cultural zeitgeist – you get to photograph, film, and impose yourself into the artwork.
It’s the perfect evolution of art meets selfie; the epoch in which we live.
So finding out that Yayoi Kusama was the world’s most popular artist in recent years is unsurprising; her artwork engages people in just that way.
You step into polka dotted rooms, peer into infinity mirrors with polka dotted pumpkins reflected unto…well, infinity, and then swirl, twirl and snap to your heart’s content. When you consider how popular these infinity rooms have become in recent years, you really appreciate how futuristic her pop art was when she started creating similar exhibitions as far back as the 1960s.
So it was a magical afternoon that we spent walking slowly from room to room, taking it all in and sharing it with our newborn – the bright colors, the contrasts, the shapes. I can only imagine her synapses firing and creating all these new connections, and then after some time, she napped and we continued onward enjoying the brilliance that is Yayoi Kusama’s gift to the world.
This exhibit closes soon – September 3rd, so there’s still time to catch it and experience it for yourself. In fact, I think its perfect timing because the hordes have already come and gone, and you'll be able to dawdle along at your own happy pace. We certainly did!
You can book tickets online the day before to reserve your time slots, I’d definitely recommend doing that as early as possible so that you avoid any disappointment!
The exhibit has already drawn droves of people from neighboring ASEAN countries as well as Australia, New Zealand and beyond. So go now, if you can - otherwise you’ll have to hop a much longer flight to the Land of the Rising Sun, as there is news that a brand new Yayoi Kusama Museum is slated to open under the helm of the Polka Dot Princess herself this October in Shinjuku, Tokyo!
Our warmest thanks to the National Gallery Singapore for sharing such a magnificent exhibit with us! We cannot wait to see what future treasures the NGS has in store for fellow art lovers!
National Gallery Singapore
1 Saint Andrew's Road, #01–01, Singapore 178957
Reserve your tickets to the Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibit
Fans of Yayoi Kusama will be pleased to know that Artsy (a online resource for art education & collecting!) has a specific Yayoi Kusama page with over 350 pieces of her works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Kusama exhibition listings - so you can stay abreast of all the latest Kusama happenings, and other favorite artists at www.artsy.net!