Thursday, February 9, 2012

YAY FOR YAYOI KUSAMA AND LOUIS VUITTON AT TATE MODERN!

Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large


Yayoi Kusama has taken over Tate Modern. Even before you enter her brilliant exhibition (which opens today!) proper you will walk across the fourth floor landing, usually a stark, minimal area. During Kusama's exhibit however, there are huge red and white spotty balls which take the space into acid trip territory. It's an ideal amuse-bouche for the exhibition itself, which I saw at Tuesday's press view. The museum has done a brilliant job of translating Kusama's key themes of proliferation, obsession and maximalism into an immersive experience for visitors. The exhibition's curator, Frances Morris, describes Kusama as 'ceaselessly productive'. It was apt then, that just as the press tour was about to begin, Kusama arrived in her polka dot wheelchair, resplendent in a red and white spotted dress, the brightest red jacket, orange Louis Vuitton bag (they're sponsoring the show) and the most scarlett hair I've ever seen. Although she's a tiny figure with a faint voice, her arrival heralded chaos, the tour was postponed while Morris walked through the show with the artist. And so everyone in attendance bustled around, resembling the kind of clustered formation which Kusama is famed for creating in her work.

Yayoi Kusama arrives at the Tate Modern
Kusama is described by Tate Modern's director Chris Dercon as 'Japan's greatest living artist'. Her career spans six decades and her influences come from East and West. She was born in rural Japan to a well-to-do family whose trade was in seeds. It was expected that a girl like her would make a good marriage and become a dutiful wife and mother. However, Kusama was an unfailingly enthusiastic and talented creative from a young age; Morris speaks of the beauty of drawings Kusama did as young as ten years old.  Her very early art references the traditional Japanese Nihonga painting, which is where the Tate exhibition begins. However, when she moved to the US at the end of the 1950s, there is a huge leap in Kusama's aesthetic. The room of white 'Infinity Net' paintings demonstrates how she immediately immersed herself in the techniques being employed by the people she connected with in Seattle and, later, in New York. Morris comments that, for many artists, that jump have been done over an entire career, but for Kusama it was 'almost overnight'.
The Infinity Net room- the most minimal of
the show but beautiful studied up close. 
As Kusama settled in the US, she was both an 'insider' and an 'outsider'. She was at the heart of the art world, with Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg among her contemporaries. But she also used her status as a woman from the East in her art; the slide show Walking Piece shows her looking distinctly Japanese in bright pink kimono and parasol, walking through the streets of New York.
Walking Piece, 1966
She continued living in New York and constantly evolving her work, experimenting with techniques including painting, sculpture and performance. In 1973, Kusama returned to Tokyo where she later admitted herself to a psychiatric facility. The hallucinations and obsessions which engulf her come out in her work to haunting and moving effect, especially in her sculptures where the scale and sense of uncontrollable multiplication are quite amazing. Yayoi Kusama still works from a studio across from the hospital.

Heaven and Earth, 1991
This exhibition is a must-see, no question. But there's a whole other aspect of Yayoi Kusama which makes it doubly worth a visit and that is, of course, fashion! As I mentioned, the exhibition is being sponsored by Louis Vuitton, ostensibly as part of their Young Arts Programme. But one of Kusama's other big projects this year just happens to be her collaboration with Louis Vuitton which the FashEd reported on back in January. My visit to the exhibition yesterday put Kusama's relationship with Vuitton into context though; fashion has punctuated her life. When she arrived in the US, Kusama sold kimonos which she'd brought with her from Japan to make money. Her art features shoes, bags and dresses, particularly in sculpture and collage form. She also had a fashion concession in a corner of Bloomingdales in the New York days.

One of Kusama's Accumulation collages
The Fash Ed and I have been trying to guess if there any clues about the collaboration which the exhibit might lend us...

The boxy shape of the pink and grey phallic dress is not so different to the silhouette we often see from Marc Jacobs. The phallic theme is possibly not super commercial, however we're sensing that Yayoi likes her metallics (see silver dress and bronze shoes below) and the big flowers on the silver dress are completely fabulous.

Silver Dress, from 1966

A Phallic shoe, from 1965
In her more recent work, Kusama has produced huge experiments in colour and pattern. Room 12 of the show is full of canvases which all show evidence of Kusama's 'codes', which Morris told us are evident from the very beginning of her career; eyes, ears, seeds, worms... So we reckon it's highly likely that we might see some bright and beautiful colour combos and all these little symbols on scarves. But then again, maybe not, because Kusama has teamed up with the Tate to do cards, hankies and tea towels in this style for their own shop.

Recent paintings by Yayoi Kusama
Of course, pumpkins and dots are Kusama's other main signatures. Given the outfit she chose for her London appearance, dots are still high on her love list. Or she might surprise us all with something completely different, which would hardly be surprising given the massive variation in all her work. We can't wait to see!

P.S This is a fab little film about Kusama's life as an artist...



Yayoi Kusama is on at Tate Modern from today until 5th June. Book here to avoid disappointment

All images by Fashion Junior at Large.

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