Yayoi Kusama is a name that should be internationally known when it comes to art. Kusama’s artwork revolves around an avant-garde style, though her work spans from two-dimensional to three-dimensional elements. Although she began with paintings and sculptures, she is most widely known for her infinity rooms, especially her 2013 creation, Infinity Mirrored Room–The Souls of Millions of Lightyears Away.
Born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929, Yayoi Kusama was initially introduced to art through Japanese styles at her art school. However, she quickly realized she was bored by Japan’s conservative art techniques and she wandered toward the Western ideologies of avant-garde. By 1957, Kusama had moved to Seattle where she had her first United States solo show. This allowed for Kusama to begin to be recognized in the United States, where many artworks were acclaimed at the time. Within a year, though, she moved to the other side of the country to New York, where more artists were. Here, she began to paint her Infinity Net paintings. As a contemporary artist, she painted until she could not contain all of her visions on a single canvas. In 1961, Kusama began her three-dimensional artwork with the creation of phallus shaped sculptures that she called, Accumulations. By 1962 her Accumulation Sculptures were shown in a group exhibition with many other notable artists, like Andy Warhol. In November of 1965, Kusama showed the world her first Infinity Room, Phalli’s Field, and the following year she came out with Infinity Mirrored Room–Love Forever. Kusama began to fully immerse herself in the society around her, getting fascinated by hippie culture, and she started to stage her Happenings around 1967. These grew from her heavy involvement in public protests, which also allowed for her to get her name out there. However, by 1973 Kusama decided to move back to Japan after her mental health began to deteriorate. In 1975, Kusama held a solo show in Japan where she featured thirty-five collages. Two years later, voluntarily she admitted herself into a mental institute to help herself. There, she began to use her creative mind in a different way. She started to express herself through writing stories and poems; she still lives there to this day. Her workflow halted for a time while she focused on her mental health, though her writing increased. She produced another Infinity Room in 1991, Mirror Room (Pumpkin), which was shown in Tokyo. Kusama held two major retrospectives ten years apart: the first was in 1987 at The Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art in Japan and the other was in 1997 at LACMA in Los Angeles. Another big accomplishment of hers occurred between those two, in 1993, when she was the first solo artist to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale at the Japanese Pavilion. Between 2007 and 2016 Kusama had created four more major Infinity Rooms: Dots Obsession-Love Transformed Into Dots (2007), Infinity Mirrored Room-Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (2009), Infinity Mirrored Room-The Souls of Millions of Lightyears Away (2013), and Infinity Mirrored Room-All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016). In October of 2017, Kusama opened her own museum to show her art in Japan. And, around that time, Kusama held a grand exhibition of her artwork at The Broad Museum in Los Angeles. Since she began creating them in 1965, Kusama has created a total of twenty different mirror rooms that are shown and known worldwide. Her artwork continues today with her painting sequence, My Eternal Soul, that she has been working on, and her Infinity Rooms are shown worldwide.
She has explained how her rooms represent her Kusama philosophy in which she creates art as a kind of medicine for her mental illness. As previously mentioned, Yayoi Kusama has dealt with mental health issues since she was a child. Due to her long history of mental health, her artwork began as self-therapy. She believes art is a cure for all kinds of illness for all of humankind to become acquainted to, and due to this, she hopes to spread her artwork to be able to reach the whole world. At the same time, Kusama believes art can be a weapon she can use throughout her experiences. She often uses polka dots to “obliterate” objects, as she calls it. This stems from many of the hallucinations she experienced in which she herself was engulfed by infinite dots. Since her childhood, Yayoi Kusama has used art to calm her mental illness and help her through it. And, in the process, she has made a name for herself internationally in the art world.
Yayoi Kusama is known primarily for her infinity rooms. When comparing her earlier rooms to her more recent infinity rooms, they all have the same basic idea of the inclusion of mirrors, but the lighting and technological elements change to stay current. Her 2013 room is the most widely recognized and well-known due to how infinite it makes people feel. People get the sense that they are standing in the middle of a galaxy and the feeling of eternity it brings is indescribable. The "photographability of the room itself, too, adds to the popular demand to see it. Demand is often high to see her work, but viewing is restricted to less than a minute long for each person. In each room, the viewer has forty-five seconds to fully immerse themselves and take it all in, hoping they don’t overload their senses with the amount of infinity around them. In her Infinity Rooms, she uses mirrors to make the space seem much larger than it really is, and “by constructing a small room with four mirrored walls, she created the illusion of endless space, with the objects inside appearing to multiply into infinity.” With many of her rooms only allowing two people to be inside at once, it can take a long time to be able to get into the room itself. However, while waiting to go into the rooms, the side attractions are the paths Kusama took to get to the creation of her infinity rooms. This ranges from showings of her early beginnings in her artistic process. She shows many of the various paintings and sculptures that she had created prior to the Infinity Rooms. However, these all remain relevant to her as they all led to the creation of the rooms and have influenced their production in many ways.
With every new mirror room, Kusama is able to create something entirely new and innovative. In the many rooms, one’s self-awareness changes due to the magnitude of how the mirrors make the rooms feel. One feels small and fully immersed in the experience. However, due to the time constraints of being in these rooms, the feeling of transcendence they bring is often fleeting. Memory alone does not do justice to the effect the rooms bring, it’s almost necessary to capture it all in media, whether it be photographs or videos. Yayoi Kusama creates fully immersive works of art for all kinds of people to experience. It has even been described that her rooms resemble what it would be like to walk inside of a kaleidoscope. Not only do the viewers become immersed in a piece of art, but they become engulfed in Kusama’s mind itself.
Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored rooms allow for their contents to seem endless, even infinite, hence their recognizable name. People are encouraged to exchange photos taken inside these rooms all over social media platforms. With countless relating hashtags, Kusama’s work has gained a grand following based on shared images of people in her rooms. With the creation of her artwork, Kusama has changed selfie culture when it comes to artwork and the art world as a whole. People are inclined to capture their time in her rooms with media, though their time already is short. However, the infinite moments are able to be contained through photographs or videos and shared to the rest of the world, further expanding the recognition Kusama deserves. Kusama’s work has spread immensely via social media with people sharing pictures of themselves fully immersed in Kusama’s world. And with this her art has gained popularity among many people of numerous generations.
Having her work shown for nearly seven decades now, Kusama has changed contemporary visual culture. Her work has no boundaries and it pushes every imaginable limit. Normally defined by her motifs of dots and phalli, her work is often repetitive to create the sense of infinity she is best known for. Kusama has developed a new side to art with its interactivity and inclusivity which has not been done before and she has changed how people can think of art and what art can do, the power it really holds. She pushes the boundaries to what art can be and what contemporary art has become by placing the viewer into the art itself and limiting the time they are able to be in it. Her work shows no limits and no rules, it is pure expression she is sharing with the world for as long as she can.
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