• Johanna L

Your Narcissism for Sale - Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama was born in Japan in 1929. She started making drawings at the age of 10. Eventually, she went on to study at the Kyoto City Specialist School of Arts. In 1958, she moved to New York City and made her mark as a female artist in a male dominated society, even winning the praise of Donald Judd, a notable artist and critic at the time. Her art style has evolved over the years, and she applies painting, sculpture, performance art, and installations to a variety of styles, including Pop Art and Minimalism.

Most of her art was inspired by the hallucinations she would get at a very young age. Kusama had a troubled upbringing. The constant abuse of Kusama’s mother resulted in the deterioration of Kusama’s mental health during her childhood. A few of her sculptures, such as her piece “Accumulations”, are inspired by her phobia of sex. Her fear of sex stemmed during her childhood, after witnessing her father’s incessant womanizing. The psychological damage dealt to Kusama led to her “visual and aural hallucinations”, as mentioned in The Washington Post. In 1977, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital and has been living there ever since. However, despite this ‘curse’ she manages to utilise her hallucinations to inspire her art.

Yayoi Kusama At Ten Years Old

A common theme within her artworks is polka dots. Kusama tells the story of a younger version of herself seeing a field of flowers talk back to her one by one. The heads of the flower were like dots that went on as far as she could see. This inspired the use of polka dots to invoke the feeling of overwhelmingness in a controlled manner.

Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity. -Yayoi Kusama

One of my favourite Yayoi pieces is the famous “Narcissus Garden”, where she placed 1,500 shimmering balls on the lawn of the Italian Pavilion. This was first presented in 1966, and to start it off, Kusama held a sign saying “Your Narcissism For Sale”. The thousand reflective balls was said to be meant for viewers to confront their own vanity and ego, as they only saw their own reflection when staring at the ball. Kusama once said in an interview, “what was most important about Narcissus Garden was my action of selling the mirror balls on the site.” Kusama was selling the shimmering balls off for $2. The exchanging of money was said to represent the economic system in the art scene. While the experience of viewing her works cannot be captured with a photo, her abstractions are said to possess an unconscious yet physically immersive energy. It is not difficult to see why she is one of the greatest artists to come out of the 1960’s. Kusama is now living in a private Tokyo mental health facility, while still producing art in a studio nearby.

Narcissus Garden

Narcissus Garden

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