Yayoi Kusama

“More and more I think about the role of the arts, and as an artist, I think it is important that I share the love and the peace.” 

Yayoi Kusama, Japanese Artist, 1929-Present

Known the world over as the Queen of Polka Dots, Yayoi Kusama’s mother didn’t want her to become an artist and tore up her early drawings. Inspired by hallucinations she had of talking flowers as a child, she went on to have a prolific career as a multimedia artist of international acclaim. Most of her work is highly immersive, including “infinity rooms”with endless points of light. This extends to her persona, itself a work of performance art, dressing in polka dots and wearing a bright red wig. Even though she has spent 42 years of her life in a psychiatric institution, her lifetime influence extends to music, design, art and fashion.

Born to a wealthy agrarian family in Japan, Kusama was exposed to fields of flowers such as peonies and violets, where she would sit for hours. Her grandfather introduced her to pumpkins, too—a motif that would later become important to her work.  At age 13, after the attack on Pearl Harbour, she was conscripted to work in a factory making military parachutes. The monotony led her to paint intricate watercolor flowers in the evening, as many as 70 a day.

After writing to the American painter Georgia O'Keeffe for advice, Kusama defied her parents and moved to New York City in the late 1950s, just as the pop art scene was starting to emerge. She survived by selling the 60 kimonos she had brought with her. Her early work included 1962s “My Flower Bed,” in which she sat in the middle of a red and white pile of polka dot textiles wearing head-to-toe red. She struggled to get noticed among her male contemporaries, such as Andie Warhol, despite her outrageous and sexually charged acts of performance art. She felt he copied some of her concepts, such as repetition.

In the 1970s, she returned to Japan. Her hallucinations returned, and in 1977 she was voluntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital where she started art therapy and began her career in earnest. 

Career highlights include the 1993 Venice Biennale, where she was awarded the entire Japanese pavilion, and a 2012 collaboration with Louis Vuitton, the most important art and fashion crossover in the brand’s history. She recently re-emerged on art’s center stage with solo shows worldwide and her 5-story gallery opening in Tokyo. Ninety thousand people bought tickets to see her show at L.A.’s Broad Museum, and her silver pumpkin sculptures now sell for half a million dollars. In 2021, Veuve Clicquot tapped her for a limited edition bottle which she festooned with flowers and polka dots. Ironically, her oldest known work of art is an untitled portrait of her mother that she drew at age 10. 


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