Yayoi Kusama: DAVID ZWIRNER

By Fateman, Johanna | Artforum International, February 2018 | Go to article overview

Yayoi Kusama: DAVID ZWIRNER


Fateman, Johanna, Artforum International


The experience of standing in line for hours in the cold, on the blustery West Side, in order to be immersed for forty-five seconds each in three successive environments by Yayoi Kusama falls somewhere, culturally speaking, between waiting to skate beneath the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and staying out all night at a club in the hope that Grace Jones will show up. On the one hand, it's tiring, touristy, and probably not worth it; on the other hand, it's Yayoi Kusama. When the eighty-eight-year-old phenom signs her name with the regal title Avant-Garde Artist after a comma--as she does in the high-minded "Message to the people of the world from Yayoi Kusama" statement that accompanied her fall takeover of David Zwirner, New York--she's being accurate. Who cares if she's also being grandiose?

With the quaint term avant-garde, she invokes the early days of her career--her lonely "revolution in art," as she called it--in which idiosyncratic theories of transcendence, liberation, and "self-obliteration" explained her practice of obsessive repeated gestures and forms. In the 1960s, she forged a unifying aesthetic of excess that positioned her multidisciplinary oeuvre at the intersection of Minimalism and Pop. It also tamed the boundless, wall-crawling patterns of her lifelong hallucinations. Today, the same ideas and psychologically soothing processes produce not the challenging works we associate with avant-gardism, but the well-honed seriality of a celebrity brand--from her throwback monochromes and sleek, fabricated, polka-dotted things, to her consummately Instagrammable mirrored installations. That's interesting too, though.

In two concurrent shows--"Festival of Life," which filled both of the gallery's West Nineteenth Street spaces, and "Infinity Nets" uptown--she didn't conquer new ground but instead exercised her prerogative to recycle old work in new arrangements and color schemes (though a couple of her new "infinity net" paintings, whose dark grounds teem with tiny white arcs, directly invoked her breakthrough works shown at the Brata Gallery on East Tenth Street in 1959). Kusama's fixation with cellular forms derives from the hours of her troubled childhood spent gazing at the pebbles of the riverbed behind her family's Matsumoto, Japan, home (as well as her subsequent dotted visions), and so the original infinity nets have a strange quality and novel status: They're representational paintings in the guise of abstractions, born of an automatic mark. The colorful ones, from 2017-which feature green arcs on orange, or yellow ones on purple, for example--are happier than their early templates. …

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