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Cheat Sheet On Yayoi Kusama
Everything you need to know about the queen of the polka dot!
Art Expert 06 Jun 2021

We’re no stranger to Yayoi Kusama. Pumpkins, polka dots and infinity rooms, she seems to capture art world headlines at least once a month. She has currently taken over the New York Botanical Garden and is soon to open sell-out infinity rooms at London’s Tate Modern. In fact, there never seems to be a minute without a Kusama exhibition or auction record. Ever wanted the skinny on Ms Kusama? Here’s everything you need!

She Was Born In 1929

Image via @kusama_archive

Yep, you read that right, 1929!! Yayoi Kusama is almost 100 years old, and she’s not slowing down yet. Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Japan and her family owned a plant nursery. It was here that she was first exposed to pumpkins and experienced the hallucinations covered in the dots that would influence the majority of her work throughout her life.  

She First Made A Mark In NYC In The 1960s

Image via @kusama_archive

Ms Kusama mader her base in the Big Apple in the 1960s. On her way through, Kusama first visited Seattle after establishing a friendship with the painter Kenneth Callahan.  

Her Polka Dots Are Inspired By Hallucinations

Image via @kusama_archive

Polkadots are often seen as sweet and childish, and I guess we can kind of say that Kusama’s spots are inspired by her childhood. As a child she experienced speckled hallucinations after looking at a patterned tablecloth which spread across surfaces and her body. She likens the experience to “infinity.” These spots are what cover much of her artwork.

Her Friends Included Georgia O’Keeffe, Donald Judd And Andy Warhol

Image via @kusama_archive

Kusama loved to write letters, and through this she established a strong friendship with Georgia O’Keeffe, who gave her business advice on how to make a career as an artist. She was also pals with Donald Judd, living in the same building in NYC. And she was even friends with a certain Andy Warhol too, and though they had an argument over plagiarised wallpaper in 1963, they remained good mates. 

She Represented Japan At The 1966 AND The 1993 Venice Biennale

Image via @kusama_archive

The Venice Biennale is probably the most prestigious event of the art world and Kusama represented Japan there in 1966, and again in 1993. In fact, Kusama was the first ever woman to have the honour of representing Japan. Her first edition comprised hundreds of mirrors to create her infamous Narcissus Garden, while her 1993 presentation was covered in pumpkins and mirrors.

Her Work Has Been Political

Image via @kusama_archive

In the 1960s Kusama wore her trademark polka dots as she climbed the Brooklyn Bridge in protest of war and capitalism. She has also made provocative protests in 1968 by directing naked dancers by the New York Stock Exchange and through a group of naked participants across the Brooklyn Bridge. 

She Has Lived In A Mental Hospital Since 1977

Image via @kusama_archive

Through choice, Kusama has been living in a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo since 1977. This was probably prompted by a breakdown she had in 1973, but her mental health has not stopped her from making work, with her studio being within walking distance of the hospital. 

She Is A Fashion Icon

Image via @kusama_archive

Kusama is known for her signature bob and always rocking her iconic polkadots. In 2012 she collaborated with Louis Vuitton on her Kusama collection and in 2013 released a lip gloss for Lancome. Before all this though, she had her own brand, Kusama Fashion Company Ltd, where she released polka dot covered clothes. 

She Often Focuses on Infinity

Image via @kusama_archive

Kusama’s polka dots and her mirrored infinity rooms actually have something in common. She likens her polka dots to infinity nets and the philosophy of the universe. They are really more than just a spot!

She Is Famous For Her Pumpkins

Kusama has been painting pumpkins for decades and she is almost as famous for squash as she is for dots.  When Kusama was just 10, she suffered from hallucinations that involved dots, flowers, light flashes and…pumpkins! While the majority of these hallucinations were frightening, the pumpkins comforted little Kusama. There is also another important connection between Kusama’s childhood and pumpkins: growing up during World War II, Kusama’s family owned a large supply of pumpkins. These squash not only fed her family, but much of Matsumoto in Japan where she lived. No wonder they were such a source of comfort!

She Is Arguably The Most Successful Living Woman Artist

Image via @kusama_archive

Few could argue that there are any living women artists more successful than Yayoi Kusama. Often smashing auction records and continually exhibiting, Ms Kusama is truly ruling the international art market. 

Text Lizzy Vartanian

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