Yayoi Kusama

Article excerpt

Byline: Robin Givhan

A belated comeback for the polka-dot queen.

It never occurred to Yayoi Kusama that after more than 50 years as an avant-garde artist, she would at long last receive the international, admiring attention that always eluded her with the help of a few polka dot-covered handbags.

Kusama, 83, is the subject of a retrospective that opened in July at the Whitney Museum of American Art. But what is pushing her into the popular consciousness is her collaboration with Louis Vuitton, the exhibition's lead sponsor. Her work with creative director Marc Jacobs has resulted in a collection of polka-dotted accessories and frocks--as well as lavishly be-dotted store windows, celebratory dinners, cheering crowds, and all the fizzy affection an octogenarian artist can handle.

Kusama, who grew up in rural Japan, first entered the spotlight in the 1960s--a bold splash of psychedelia landing in a New York art milieu dominated by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. "When I came here, I was working very hard, because I wanted to become a very important artist in the United States," Kusama says. "At that time, the United States was the top in the world, the most famous country, and many people came to New York to become artists." She established a reputation for art happenings choreographed with nude performers, soft-form penis sculptures, and dots.

Dots were her thing--beguiling, surreal, mysterious. The dots, she says in her accented English, are "my medicine--my personal medicine. From my childhood, I [saw] the polka dots ... [and] people talked about [my art with] the polka dots. …