Yayoi Kusama At Tate – 01/06/2012



The Passing Winter 2005

Yayoi Kusama has dealt with severe psychological problems since childhood, and her artwork is largely inspired by her mental health. As a youth she was abused by her mother, and she has had vivid audio-visual hallucinations her whole life. Kusama returned to Japan in 1973, and in 1977 she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, where she voluntarily lives to this day.

For Kusama, art was both a release and a form of treatment for her psychological issues. Her 1950s minimalist Infinity Nets were wall-covering canvases painstakingly filled in with tiny circles, forming sublime nets that overwhelm the viewer. To complete them, Kusama would work for hours and even days on end without stop, which the artist has referred to a kind of self-obliteration. Her visual hallucinations and fear of sex led her to cover objects, images and even people with dots and abstract phallic sculptures, projecting her obsessions out into the world.

With this background, many commentators were bemused by the tension between Kusama’s dark inspiration and the incongruous visual whimsy of her work. Some noted that their prevailing response to the exhibition was fun.


‘If anyone is hoping that the installations will be in any way disorientating or unsettling (as the exhibition notes claim) then prepare to be disappointed. What they are, like much of Kusama’s work, is a lot of fun. It is the playful rather than the psychological aspects that will resonate most strongly with visitors to this show – which is no bad thing at all.’ – Arab Women Now


‘The success of Kusama’s work, and the undeniable appeal of the exhibition, is that it can be enjoyed purely on the level of the aesthetic. Informative details about her paranoia and neurosis simply add depth to this superficial charm.’ – Ram Mashru, PORT magazine


I agree with both these statements but i also think that the way the show has been hung, without a sense of kitsch, radiates a more threatening atmosphere that emphasises Kusama’s energy, inspirations and mental illnesses. Whether painted, fluorescent stick-ons or fairy lights in a mirrored room, what seems certain is the fact that beyond the immediate visual appeal lies an endless sea of thoughts, emotions, hope and despair.


With in the show, i felt as though you could trace a journey of the artist; through location, (Tokyo, New York and the psychiatric hospital in which she has voluntarily resided for the last forty years), but also through medium and even being. For, if her journey is one of self-obliteration, of obliteration of the self, then the various ways in which she has explored this is its most remarkable aspect.




‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life’, 2011, wood, mirror, plastic, acrylic, LED lights, aluminium

You get an understanding of the the way Kusama envisions life, through her paintings and sculptures, but It’s only when you are surrounded by her repeating patterns that you realise what it’s like to be immersed in her hallucinatory and fantastical world, where there is a constant struggle between light and dark. This infinity room was the highlight of the show for me.

Echo Hopkins of Artwrit called “Infinity Mirror Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Light” Kusama’s “magnum opus.” Joseph Richards of ‘The What Where When’ believes this is due to the particular nature of Kusama’s thematics:

You get the impression that Kusama’s meditative obsessiveness is a mind-bending effect that can never really be pulled off inside a gallery space. Infinity can’t sit inside a frame, and when the gallery space becomes the piece, that’s when the magic happens.


Upon researching Kusama after i visited the show, i found this critique –

“Overall, for me, Kusama’s work is just too autobiographical, too personal. We must feel that the artist has his or her finger on mankind’s pulse, not just their own. The baring of the soul and of the inner workings of the personal unconscious will seem merely solipsistic if that principle is not observed.” – John Kavanagh, Artists Insight

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