Connecting the dots: 8 things to know about Yayoi Kusama

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in front of her latest artwork Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow, which will be on display at her first major museum showcase in South-east Asia on June 9, 2017.
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in front of her latest artwork Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow, which will be on display at her first major museum showcase in South-east Asia on June 9, 2017.PHOTO: OTA FINE ARTS

SINGAPORE - Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is best known for her signature dots and dazzling infinity mirrored rooms but there is plenty more to learn about the red-wigged 88-year-old.

The exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore starting this Friday (June 9) will be the first major survey of her work in South-east Asia.

Here are eight things to know about the Japanese grand dame of avant-garde art:

1. Her parents did not support her interest in art

Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, in 1929. She was raised in a strict household where her family, particular her mother, was not supportive of her interest in art.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

Kusama persisted, however, and studied painting in the modern Japanese Nihonga style in Kyoto before moving to New York in the late 1950s.

2. Her works stem from hallucinations

She has endured nightmarish hallucinations and psychological trauma since young and her hallucinations feature strings of dots. To overcome this, she uses the dots in her works.

 

3. She has feelings of disgust towards sex

In the 1960s, Kusama started making soft sculptures out of stuffed fabric that took the form of phallic shapes. This was her way of expressing her disgust towards sex and opposing the male gender. When she was a child, her mother would send Kusama off to spy on her womanising father.

 

4. She has painted dots on naked people

The octogenarian held anti-war naked protests in the 1960s in public places such as the New York Stock Exchange and the Brooklyn Bridge. She would paint dots on the naked participants as they frolicked around but would not disrobe herself.

5. She has never been married

She has, however, had a long-term relationship with American artist Joseph Cornell, who died in 1972.

6. She lives in a mental hospital

Following the death of her long-term partner Joseph Cornell, she returned to Japan and checked into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo after suffering a mental breakdown. She continues to live there by choice.

7. Her work can be viewed in Orchard Road

Kusama fans can head to the rooftop garden of mall Orchard Central. There is a kitschy mixed-media art installation there by Kusama, titled Let's Go To A Paradise Of Glorious Tulips (above). 

Her other works previously displayed in Singapore include trees along Orchard Road covered in polka dot fabric for the Singapore Biennale in 2006, and paintings and sculptures which were sold at Art Stage Singapore 2014 and 2016.


The 4th edition of Art Stage Singapore was held at Marina Bay Sands Exhibition and Convention Centre in January 2014. ST: FILE PHOTO

8. She has dabbled in the world of fashion

Kusama founded her own fashion line, Kusama Fashion Company Ltd, in the late 1960s and would sell statement pieces with strategically placed holes in areas such as the breast and rear.

In 2012, she collaborated with fashion juggernaut Louis Vuitton to create a collection that features her signature dots on clothing and bags.