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Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生 or 草間弥生, b. March 22, 1929 in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture) is a Japanese artist whose paintings, collages, soft sculptures, performance art and environmental installations all share an obsession with repetition, pattern, and accumulation. (She has described herself as an "obsessive artist".)

Kusama's work is based in Conceptual art and shows some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism, and is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. Kusama is also a published novelist and poet, and has created notable work in film and fashion design. She has long struggled with mental illness.

On November 12, 2008 Christies New York sold a work by her for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist.[1]

 Yayoi Kusama @ Tate Modern

Yayoi Kusama

Life and work

Born in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Kusama has experienced hallucinations and severe obsessive thoughts since childhood, often of a suicidal nature. She claims that as a small child she suffered severe physical abuse by her mother.[2]

Early in Kusama's career, she began covering surfaces (walls, floors, canvases, and later, household objects and naked assistants) with the polka dots that would become a trademark of her work. The vast fields of polka dots, or "infinity nets," as she called them, were taken directly from her hallucinations.

Kusama left Japan at the age of 27 for New York City, following correspondence with Georgia O'Keeffe in which she became interested in joining the limelight in the city.[3] During her time in the U.S., she quickly established her reputation as a leader in the avant-garde movement. She organized outlandish happenings in conspicuous spots like Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, often involving nudity and designed to protest the Vietnam War. She was enormously productive, and counted Joseph Cornell and Donald Judd among her friends and supporters, but did not profit financially from her work. She returned to Japan in ill health in 1973.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama has exhibited work with Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. Kusama represented Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993, and in 1998-1999 a major retrospective exhibition of her work toured the U.S. and Japan.

Today Kusama lives, by choice, in a mental hospital in Tokyo, where she has continued to produce work since the mid-1970s. Her studio is a short distance from the hospital.[4] Kusama is often quoted as saying: "If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago,"[5]

Yayoi Kusama said about her 1954 painting titled Flower (D.S.P.S),

One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers. I ran desperately up the stairs. The steps below me began to fall apart and I fell down the stairs straining my ankle.[citation needed]

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama

Another quote of hers:

"...a polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement... Polka dots are a way to infinity."[citation needed]

Her organically abstract paintings of one or two colors (the Infinity Nets series), which she began upon arriving in New York, garnered comparisons to the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman.

In October 2006, Yayoi Kusama became the first Japanese woman to receive the Praemium Imperiale, one of Japan’s most prestigious prizes for internationally recognized artists.[6]

In August 2010, Kusama exhibited at the Aichi Triennale 2010 [1], Nagoya. Her works exhibited inside the Aichi Arts Center , out of the center and Toyota car polka dot project.

In popular culture

* Superchunk, an American indie band, included a song called "Art Class (Song for Yayoi Kusama)" on its Here's to Shutting Up album.

* Yoko Ono cites Kusama as an influence.

* The recently built Matsumoto Performing Art Center in her hometown Matsumoto, designed by Toyo Ito, has an entirely dotted façade, likely influenced by her works.

* She is mentioned in the lyrics of the Le Tigre song Hot Topic.


* Jo Applin, "Resisting Infinity", Yayoi Kusama, exch. cat., Victoria Miro Gallery, London, 2008

* Izumi Nakajima, "Yayoi Kusama between Abstraction and Pathology". In: Griselda Pollock (ed.), Psychoanalysis and the Image. London: Routledge, 2006.

* "Collection of Print Works: Yayoi Kusama, 1974-2004", Japanese/English, Abe Corporation, Tokyo Japan.

* "Eternity-Modernity: Yayoi Kusama", 2005, English/Japanese, Bijutsu Shuppan-sha Ltd, Tokyo, Japan.

* "Manhattan Suicide Addict: Yayoi Kusama", 2005, French, Les Presses du Reel, Dijon, France.

* "Kusamatrix", 2004, English/Japanese, Kadokawa Shoten, Tokyo.

* "Yayoi Kusama Furniture by graf: decorative mode no.3", 2003, Seigensha Art Publishing, Inc, Kyoto, Japan.

* "Yayoi Kusama", 2003, German, Kunsthalle wien, Vienna, Austria.

* "Infinity Nets", 2002, Japanese, Sakuhinsha, Tokyo, Japan.

* "Yayoi Kusama", 2001, French, Les Press du Reel Janvier, Dijon, France.

* "Yayoi Kusama", 2000, English, Phaidon Press Ltd, London, UK.

* "Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968", Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1998, Lynn Zelevansky, Laura Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama

* "Violet Obsession", 1998, English, Wandering Mind Books, Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

* Hustlers Grotto", 1998, English, Wandering Mind Books, Berkeley, California, U.S.A.

* J. F. Rodenbeck, "Yayoi Kusama: Surface, Stitch, Skin". In: Catherine de Zegher (ed.), Inside the Visible. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston & MIT Press, 1996.

* "Yayoi Kusama Print Works", 1992, Abe Corporation, Tokyo, Japan.

* "Yayoi Kusama: Driving Image", 1986, Parco shuppan, Tokyo, Japan.

* "A Book of Poems and Paintings", 1977, Japan Edition Art, Tokyo, Japan.


1. ^ New York art sales The Guardian, retrieved November 2008
2. ^ 2007 interview at
3. ^ Liu, Belin (26 February 2009). "Yayoi Kusama". Bitch magazine. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
4. ^ McDonald, John (12 February 2005). "Points of no return". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
5. ^ 2007 interview at
6. ^ ARTINFO (October 18, 2006), Art News: Kusama First Japanese Woman to Win Coveted Art Award, ARTINFO,, retrieved 2008-04-23


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