Yayoi Kusama’s dream world

By Lee Woo-young

Japanese artist shows off 30 new works at Daegu Art Museum in her biggest-ever Asian exhibition outside Japan

  • Published : Jul 16, 2013 - 20:08
  • Updated : Jul 16, 2013 - 20:08
Inside of the “Dots Obsession” balloon. (Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald)
DAEGU ― Large red balloons with white polka dots hang like big character balloons at an amusement park, greeting viewers as they enter the fun, strange world of Yayoi Kusama created at Daegu Art Museum.

More fun awaits as one takes a closer look inside the balloons ― infinitely mirrored space with small red-and-white polka-dotted balloons stretching endlessly into the distance.

The large-scale installation, which fills up to the ceiling of the three-story museum, is one of the new works by the acclaimed Japanese artist on show at the museum in Daegu.

The show is the biggest-ever Kusama exhibition held in Asia outside Japan and will tour major countries, including China, Macau, Taiwan and India, according to the museum director.

“It’s hard to say it’s a retrospective. Compared to other Kusama exhibitions being held around the world at the moment, it has more new works by the artist,” said Kim Sun-hee, director of the museum, during a press conference on Monday in Daegu. 
Yayoi Kusama poses with her paintings at Tate Modern in 2012. ( Daegu Art Museum)

Three major exhibitions of Kusama’s works are currently being held around the world, including the one in Daegu which opened Tuesday, with one in Japan and another in Argentina as part of the European and South American exhibition tour.

While the Daegu exhibition space is relatively unknown, Kim hopes the artist brings vitality to the museum, which opened two years ago.

“People say contemporary art is hard to understand and not fun. This is a test for our museum to see if we can prove otherwise,” said Kim, who added she aims to draw 300,000 viewers to this exhibition. The museum saw a total of 100,000 visitors in its first year.

“Kusama’s works need no explanation. They offer strong inspiration, happiness and mystery all at the same time to anyone,” Kim added.

The exhibition showcases 118 of Kusama’s works, including 30 new pieces alongside signature sculptures and installations.

“Kusama has devoted three years to painting. She has set a goal of painting 300 works. Kusama doesn’t have an interest in traveling or enjoying food. She only concentrates on art creation, except on Saturdays and Sundays because she needs rest,” said Isao Takakura, the managing director of Tokyo-based Yayoi Kusama Studio, at the press conference.

Health problems barred the 84-year-old artist from traveling to Daegu for the exhibition; instead, her team from Yayoi Kusama Studio consulted with the museum in planning and curating the exhibition.

The works on display date from 1994 to 2013. A notable feature of her recent works is the use of bright colors and positive symbols such as flowers, puppets and pumpkins as seen in the 2012 piece, “With All My Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever,” a room furnished with three large tulip installations dotted using colorful round stickers, and the 2013 dog figure in bright colors and dots.

“Recent sculptures feature rather simple and even cute figures such as puppets, flowers and pumpkins, compared to the past works that delivered a strong message about her fear and horror. The dot patterns in these sculptures are also bright, big and even jaunty,” wrote Lee Min-jung, curator of Daegu Art Museum, in an essay for the exhibition catalogue.

Much of Kusama’s work has been marked by her obsessive compulsive disorder for which she was hospitalized and her desire to escape from a psychological condition ― hallucinations.

Floating dots and net patterns have been created from hallucinations brought about by her neurotic disorder, which she has experienced since age 10.

“The reason for me to paint was not to be an artist, but because of illness, neurosis, obsessive compulsiveness and paranoia. The horrors from the same repetitive images appearing and white rice-like dots crawling on the wall in darkness make me absent-minded. I always draw those images in my sketchbook. The same repetitively flattened space covers my mind entirely without recognition, thus I transferred them to my sketchbook. And this time, I attached those to my body. I am able to survive to today by doing this,” Kusama once said regarding her symptoms and their link to her artistic practice.

Director Kim said she once asked the artist why she draws the same patterns in different numbers.

“Her recent work features side (profiles of) faces and some works have the patterns repeated dozens of times, and for some works, repeated hundreds of times. I asked her why when I visited her studio in Japan for the exhibition. She hesitated to answer at first, but then admitted it’s from hallucinations. She said she is pouring out whatever she has in her head, which makes her arms hurt so much from drawing the same patterns over and over,” Kim said.

The first exhibition room features Kusama’s recent paintings, including the works featuring profiles, her signature dots, nets and eyes, drawn not quite so grotesquely as her 1994 black-and-white paintings featuring dotted lines that almost resemble microscopic images of plant stems or blood vessels.

Kusama invites viewers into her obsessive attraction to endless dots in the interactive work, “The Obliteration Room,” where viewers are given dot stickers to post onto any object in the all-white room ― on furniture, a tent, the floor and ceiling.

“Kusama’s works transcend artistic boundaries and fields. They are something that anyone, even a child, can enjoy,” said Ota Hidenori, director of Ota Find Arts, a gallery in Tokyo that represents the artist.

The exhibition “A Dream I Dreamed” runs through Nov. 3 at Daegu Art Museum.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closes on Mondays. Admission is 5,000 won for adults, 3,000 won for teenagers and 2,000 won for children. Guided tours are offered twice a day at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.daeguartmuseum.org, or call (053) 790-3000.

By Lee Woo-young  (wylee@heraldcorp.com)