Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrors at the AGO (and the Library too!)
Toronto is abuzz with the upcoming Yayoi Kusama show at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I happened to be at the AGO the other day and all the staff were busily peeling off the white backing from thousands of sheets of stickers.
One of them fell into my wallet ...
According to the book Yayoi Kusama: Give Me Love, this show is "a documentation of the artist's most recent exhibition at David Zwirner, New York, which marked the US debut of The Obliteration Room, an all-white, domestic interior that viewers are invited to cover with dot stickers of various sizes and colors. Taking The Obliteration Room as its centerpiece, this catalogue reveals, in vivid large-scale plates, the transformation of the space from a clean white interior to a stunningly saturated room, with ceilings, walls, and furniture covered in myriad multicolored stickers put there by viewers over the course of the exhibition."
If you can't quite imagine that, then this Youtube video from David Zwirner's gallery may give you a better idea – and possibly also some insight into my stickers.
The show at the AGO is called Infinity Mirrors. "Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's iconic Infinity Mirror Rooms are filled with a multiplicity of lights that reflect endlessly, projecting the illusion of infinite space. Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors traces these installations over five decades, revealing the ways in which they developed from a strategy of "self-obliteration" and political liberation during the Vietnam War to a means of social harmony in the present. By examining her early unsettling installations alongside her more recent ethereal atmospheres, this volume aims to historicize her pioneering work amidst today's renewed interest in experiential practices."
What you may not realize is that Kusama began exploring the ideas around Infinity Mirrors quite some time ago: "Almost a half-century after Yayoi Kusama debuted her landmark installation Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli's Field (1965) in New York, the work remains challenging and unclassifiable. Shifting between the Pop-like and the Surreal, the Minimal and the metaphorical, the figurative and the abstract, the psychotic and the erotic, with references to "free love" and psychedelia, it seemed to embody all that the 1960s was about, while at the same time denying the prevailing aesthetics of its time. The installation itself was a room lined with mirrored panels and carpeted with several hundred brightly polka-dotted soft fabric protrusions into which the visitor was completely absorbed. Kusama simply called it "a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses." A precursor of performance-based feminist art practice, media pranksterism and "Occupy" movements, Kusama (born in 1929) was once as well known as her admirers – Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Joseph Cornell.
If you're interested in reading more about the artist, you might enjoy her biography Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama. "In 1957, encouraged by Georgia O'Keeffe, artist Yayoi Kusama left Japan for New York City to become a star. By the time she returned to her home country in 1973, she had established herself as a leader of New York's avant-garde movement, known for creating happenings and public orgies to protest the Vietnam War and for the polka dots that had become a trademark of her work...Taking us from her oppressive childhood in postwar Japan to her present life in the psychiatric hospital where she voluntarily stays – and is still productive – Kusama's autobiography offers insight into the persona of mental illness that has informed her work. While she vibrantly describes the hallucinatory episodes she experiences, her tale is punctuated by stories of her pluck and drive in making her artistic voice heard."
For a bit of an easier read, you may want to also try Hi, Konnichiwa: Yayoi Kusama Art Book, a substantial, brilliant little book that brings together Kusama's vivid imagery throughout the various phases of her work over her long life. Here are her large-scale canvases, environmental sculptures, multi-media installations and self-portraits. Here too are photos of the artist as a child, a young woman in Tokyo and New York and more recently in her studio in Japan. This book is a vital chronicle of all Kusama's creative endeavors, and offers a rare insight into the fevered imagination of a fascinating woman.
For a bit of context for her work in the 20th century, try some of these titles.
Art Visionaries: "This compelling book chronicles 75 of the most influential artists from the dawn of the 20th century to the present, and from around the world. Each entry provides a fascinating insight into the artist and his or her vision of what they were trying to do, while also acknowledging the lasting effect of their work. Arranged in a broadly chronological order, the book gives a sense of the impact each artist has had on the development of art practice over the last 100 years."
Fight like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World: Nearly every day there's another news story, think piece or pop cultural anecdote related to feminism and women's rights. Conversations around consent, equal pay, access to contraception and a host of other issues are foremost topics of conversation in North American media.
Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016: "The catalogue accompanies the most comprehensive exhibition of postwar abstract sculpture by women artists. Revolution in the Making traces the ways in which women artists deftly transformed the language of sculpture. The volume seeks to identify the multiple strains of proto-feminist practices, characterized by abstraction and repetition, which rejected the singularity of the masterwork. Divided into four sections, the book will feature approximately thirty artists and nearly 100 works in total."