Magazine article New Criterion

"Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968"

Magazine article New Criterion

"Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968"

Article excerpt

"Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. July 9-September 22, 1998

On more than one occasion, I have had the opportunity to liken an art exhibition to an amusement park funhouse. A lot of contemporary art--installation art, in particular--lends itself to such an unflattering analogy. However one configures it, installations eschew the nuances of high art for the spectacle of theater or, should one say, the theatrical. One leading practitioner of the form stated that his aim was to "control" the viewer, and the most telling attribute of installation art is its distrust of aesthetic engagement. In taking over "the white cube" of the gallery, installations overwhelm and, at times, harass the viewer. Given the desperation inherent in such endeavors, who wouldn't prefer the attractions of a roadside carny?

The re-creation of Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirror Room (1965), as seen in the exhibition "Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968" was like a funhouse but in a good way--diverting and silly. Inside a gallery lined with mirrors, the viewer confronted innumerable polka-dotted phalluses made of stuffed fabric; they were, almost literally, the "prizes" found in a carnival midway (albeit a peculiar one). Gallerygoers were allowed inside Infinity Room one at a time, and greeted it--and incoming visitors--with a smile that was equal parts mirth and embarrassment. The comedy of Kusama's refracted priapism is not unrelated to the more outre tendencies of the 1960s and has a woozy charm. Could this mean that the doodads of a flower child are preferable to the jaded ironies of our current crop of art-world careerists? Perhaps, although it may be a distinction so fine as to be not worthy of scrutiny.

"Love Forever" was not a retrospective; rather, it covered a decade wherein Kusama, newly arrived from Japan, made her presence felt in the New York art world. …

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