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Kusama, Yayoi

Kusama, Yayoi, 1929–, Japanese artist. In childhood she began to experience hallucinations, often of repeated dots, visions that have strongly influenced the imagery in her paintings, collages, sculpture, and prints as well as her performance and installation art. In 1956 she left Japan for the United States, settling in New York City a year later. Her earliest New York paintings were infinity nets, large abstractions of thickly painted, white lacelike patterns; the obsessively repetitive nature of these works also marks her other work. In the 1960s she became part of the avant-garde New York art scene, with a kinship to minimalism and pop art without belonging to either movement. She painted naked artists with brightly hued polka dots and used them to stage outdoor anti–Vietnam War happenings, and made installations in which she attached small, phallic cloth sculptures to objects, reflecting the sexual phobias that characterize much of her art. She also produced her first mirrored rooms, such as Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli's Field (1965), whose mirrored walls reflect a floor covered with cloth phallic forms painted with red polka dots.

Psychological problems led Kusama to return to Japan in 1973, and since 1977 she has lived in a mental hospital and worked in a nearby studio. The subject of renewed interest since the 1990s, she has continued to create paintings and sculptures, notably large outdoor sculptural commissions of brightly colored fruits and flowers, as well as otherworldly walk-in mirror-room installations. Some of these are polka-dotted, e.g., The Obliteration Room (2002); others filled with pumpkin sculptures covered in polka dots, e.g., All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016), or starlike universes of multicolored lights, e.g., Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013). Kusama has also worked in fashion; made photographs, films, and videos; and written novels, novellas, and poetry. The Yayoi Kusama Museum, devoted exclusively to her work, opened in Tokyo in 2017.

See her autobiography, Infinity Net (2011); studies by L. Hoptman (2000), L. Neri et al., ed. (2012), M. Yamamura (2015), M. Laurberg et al. (2016), and M. Tezuka et al., ed. (2017); H. Lenz, dir., Kusama—Infinity (documentary, 2018).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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