For Those Times When Life Finds You “At the End of the Universe”

Artwork: Yayoi Kusama, Love Is Calling, 2013, wood, metal, glass mirrors, tile, acrylic panel, rubber, blowers, lighting element, speakers, and sound, courtesy of David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; KUSAMA Enterprise.

“My art originates from hallucinations only I can see,” artists Yayoi Kusama revealed. “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.”

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Indeed, the 88-year-old Japanese legend has done just this, creating a body of work that dominates the contemporary art scene. It’s been a long time coming for the woman born in Matsumo, Nagano, Japan in 1929. Hailing from an upper-middle-class family of seedling merchants, Kusama reveals, “Because my mother was so vehemently against my becoming an artist, I became emotionally unstable and suffered a nervous breakdown. It was around this time, or in my later teens, that I began to receive psychiatric treatment. By translating hallucinations and fear of hallucinations into paintings, I have been trying to cure my disease.”

Yayoi Kusama, Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009, wood, metal, glass mirrors, plastic, acrylic paint, LED lighting system, and water, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund.

Yayoi Kusama, Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009, wood, metal, glass mirrors, plastic, acrylic paint, LED lighting system, and water, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund.

With art as her guiding force, Kusama left Japan and came to New York City in 1957. As she became a dominant member of the avant garde, her works were exhibited alongside Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and George Segal in the early 1960s. At this time, she was working 50-60 hours at a time, explaining that the creative process consumed her very being. She revealed, “”I gradually feel myself under the spell of the accumulation and repetition in my nets which expand beyond myself, and over the limited space of canvas, covering the floor, desks and everywhere.”

Then came the polka dots, which she painted on naked participants in a series of happenings that embraced the counterculture aesthetic and style of the hippie scene. “Since my childhood, I have always made works with polka dots. Earth, moon, sun and human beings all represent dots; a single particle among billions,” she explained.

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Yayoi Kusama, Love Is Calling, 2013, wood, metal, glass mirrors, tile, acrylic panel, rubber, blowers, lighting element, speakers, and sound, courtesy of David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; KUSAMA Enterprise.

In 1973, Kusama moved back to Japan. Four years later she voluntarily admitted herself to a mental institution in Tokyo, where she has lived ever since. In the intervening decades, Kasuma has become a global legends, becoming one of the most recognized artists alive today, beloved for her ability to mediate the intense sensory experience of life and art into a symphony of light, color, and form that awes and overwhelms.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents Kusama: At the End of the Universe on view now through September 18, 2016. The exhibition features two of the artist’s signature infinity rooms: Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (2009) and Love Is Calling (2013), along with a monumental yellow black polka-dotted fiberglass pumpkins. The infinity rooms are lined with mirrors to confound all the visual perception of spatial limits, revealing the beauty of obliteration as it is met with the horror of expansiveness, for what becomes a cosmic spectacle, a metaphor for life and death itself.

Yayoi Kusama, Love Is Calling, 2013, wood, metal, glass mirrors, tile, acrylic panel, rubber, blowers, lighting element, speakers, and sound, courtesy of David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; KUSAMA Enterprise.

Yayoi Kusama, Love Is Calling, 2013, wood, metal, glass mirrors, tile, acrylic panel, rubber, blowers, lighting element, speakers, and sound, courtesy of David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; KUSAMA Enterprise.

In her autobiography, Kusama revealed, “All of my works are steps on my journey, a struggle for truth that I have waged with pen, canvas, and materials. Overhead is a distant, radiant star, and the more I stretch to reach it, the further it recedes. But by the power of my spirit and my single-hearted pursuit of the path, I have clawed my way through the labyrinthine confusion of the world of people in an unstinting effort to approach even one step closer to the realm of the soul.”

All artwork: © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; KUSAMA Enterprise.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.