By LEXA BRIECK
The National Art Center, Tokyo, Flower Sculpture in Kusama Exhibition, Photo by author.
Stepping into the exhibit is a journey into a world in which reality and fantasy blur, wherein polka dots and vibrant colors create a maelstrom of emotion and sensation. The National Art Center of Tokyo in cooperation with TV Asahi and The Asahi Shimbun is currently displaying Yayoi Kusama’s “My Eternal Soul” exhibit until May 22, 2017.
The exhibit presents nearly 80 years’ worth of Kusama’s creations. What sets this exhibit apart from many of her previous ones is the fact that one of Kusama’s most recent collection of artworks, “My Eternal Soul” – a series of 132 paintings starting in 2009 – have never before been showcased. From ceiling to floor, fantastical patterns and depictions of the human face are painted across every surface. Looking at the paintings from a distance, some of the shapes and patterns seem to be floating above the rest.
Stepping closer, it is clear to see that they are illusions created by contrasting colors and clever patterns. In the center of the exhibit room stands three sculptures. At first glance, they seem to be brightly colored flowers. Stepping closer, one is able to see eyes protruding from the inside of the flower. Kusama is known for her polka dot artwork as well as incorporating eyes into many of her pieces. These patterns stem from her upbringing. Kusama was born in 1929 in the Nagano Prefecture. She grew up in an abusive household and had problems with her womanizing father. At the young age of ten, she began to have vivid hallucinations and transferred these images over into her artwork.
Moving into the next room, the ambience completely changes. Instead of the brightly colored painting and sculptures, one sees paintings created during and depicting the World War II period. The room’s lighting is dimmed and much of the pieces lack the sense of vitality and excitement that her more recent works instill in the viewers. The exhibit creates a timeline of her life.
Kusama describes her childhood as an “adolescence [spent] in closed darkness” as she was required to work in a military factory during World War II, sewing parachutes for the Japanese army. Moving from dark, grayscale paintings, the next room shows the period of Kusama’s life in which she became obsessed with “self-obliteration” (covering herself and other objects in polka dots or matching patterns and attempting to fade into the background). She was studying in New York City during 1957-1972 where she gained reputation for her “self-obliteration” works and as an avant-garde fashion artist. The rest of the rooms in the exhibit continue in such a pattern: a chronological showing of Kusama’s artwork throughout her career.
One “must-see” at the exhibition is Kusama’s Mirror/Infinity rooms. From a bright, sunlit hallway, visitors enter a darkened room. At first, it is hard to see anything at all. Then, lights hanging from the ceiling turn on all at once. Mirrors cover every surface in the room. With reflections bouncing in every direction, it is like a never-ending Christmas illumination show. Walking through that room is like floating through space with thousands of stars.
The exhibition contains many other fascinating creations. From sculptures of boats and an infinity mirror ladder to paintings of pumpkins and video art, there is much to appreciate. By visiting the exhibition and seeing firsthand the world of illusionary artwork stemming from Kusama’s hallucinations, you might experience a shift in your perceptions of reality and fantasy, leading to an understanding of how personal expression can create everlasting representations of our life philosophy – our “eternal soul.”