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Yayoi Kusama: "The Moving Moment When I Went to the Universe" Review - Victoria Miro

Co-Written by Anastasia Yannopoulos

3 October - 21 December 2018

FREE timed ticket entry


As she begins her thirteenth collaboration with the Victoria Miro gallery and comes closer to turning ninety, the Japanese artist for whom an introduction seems almost redundant continues to bewilder Londoners with her new exhibition, The Moving Moment When I Went into the Universe.

Seeing Yayoi Kusama’s latest exhibition feels somewhat like stepping into a pop-art adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland: ordinary objects are inflated to extraordinary proportions, hundreds of painted eyes peer out the walls at viewers, and experiencing the Infinity Room feels, quite literally, like being transported into another world. However, whilst the exhibition is certainly visually engaging, to view Kusama’s work as merely a visual spectacle is to overlook the darker subtexts and deeper meanings behind her artworks.

The first artwork of the exhibition is entitled My Heart is Dancing into the Universe, a work based on the concept of the Infinity Mirrored Room that was first developed by Kusama in 1965. The anticipation of reaching this much talked about display is heighted by the wait to see it, as only three people are allowed to enter a time. The line may be long, but the experience on the other side proved to be well worth the wait.

Upon entering the room, viewers are immersed in a panoply of light and colour. The space is dark and illuminated only by planet-like orbs, described by Kusama as “electronic polka dots”. Walking through the Infinity Room is an awing, otherworldly experience. Despite being displayed in a relatively small area, the darkness and mirrors create an illusion of being suspended in infinite space. Indeed, notions of the infinite and the eternal are explored throughout the exhibition, a reflection of what Kusama has termed her “preoccupation with infinity.”Placing the installation at the forefront of the exhibition throws the viewer into infinite expanses of Kusama’s artistic vision and keeps them suspended there as they wander through the gallery.

In direct contrast with the otherworldly appearance of the first room of the exhibition, is the rather earthly and commonplace subject matter of the second: pumpkins. The exhibition’s next display is filled with painted and sculptural depictions of red, yellow and green pumpkins, all speckled with Kusama’s signature polka dots. The almost childlike quality of these artworks, with their vibrant colours and fantastical proportions, belie the darker influences that shaped the artist’s formative years and which have had a profound impact upon her artistic creations.

Kusama first encountered pumpkins in the fields near her childhood home in Matsumoto, Japan. It was during her childhood that Kusama also first experienced the hallucinations that have continued to affect her throughout her life, and which have had an intense influence on her artistic work. These hallucinations “dazzled and dumbfounded” Kusama, as inanimate objects spoke to or chased her, and strange patterns enveloped her in an experience she describes as “self-obliteration”. For Kusama, painting and sculpting became a means of translating these hallucinations into works of art, which “helped to ease the shock and fear of the episodes”.

Following through into the next phase of the exhibition, viewers are led into an outside garden. Beside a small pond, giant flowers, painted in polka dots of various sizes and colours, erupt from the ground. The juxtaposition of these oversized bronze flowers with the delicate flora that surrounds them creates a simultaneous sense of unity and misplacement, perhaps reflective of Kusama’s own experiences as an outsider in the artistic world. As expressed by Glenn Scott Wright, co-director at Victoria Miro gallery, Kusama has always been “doubly an outsider – a woman, and a Japanese woman”.

Both the Pumpkins and the Flowers seem to be a way through which Kusama attempts to immortalise the happy parts of her childhood. By creating objects familiar to her out of solid materials, she is seeking to eliminate the transient and perishable nature of the natural world from which they originate. The largeness and immovability of the flowers in the sculptural form that Kusama has depicted them in contrasts with their fleeting quality in the natural world, which in a way, speaks to a certain sense of security. This links to the artist’s fascination with infinity and the need to preserve, both her ideas and, in a way perhaps, her memories.

The most demanding part of the show awaits the viewers in the upstairs room, of which every wall has been adorned with large canvases, characteristically rich in colours and motifs. It is another immersive experience created by the artist- the room is filled with a myriad of seemingly random objects which all scream at the viewer at once. Despite their disparate appearance, Kusama’s paintings appear to revolve around a singular theme: perspective; as she allocates canvas space to different sizes and points of view. Microscopic, cell-like entities are neighbours to macroscopic landscape imagery, which forces the audience to engage with the paintings on a much more multifaceted level than is usually required of an artwork. It is certainly the most rewarding part of the exhibition and one which does not tire at its repetitiveness as one might say of the previous exhibits.

Kusama’s latest exhibition displays her versatility as artist, as she draws viewers into her artistic vision through her varied use of sculpture, paintings and the immersive experience of the Infinity Room. Whilst there is a great deal of diversity in Kusama’s body of work, a unifying factor running throughout are the polka dots that feature in so many of her compositions. There is a sense of togetherness created by Kusama’s use of polka dots. After all, a polka dot by itself is merely a circle. Kusama once described her artwork as “examin[ing] the single dot that was [her] own life. One polka dot; a single particle among billions.” Through her signature motif of polka dots, Kusama thus explores concepts of both individuality and connection. Polka dots, whilst comprised of circles that are all separate from each other, create a sense of togetherness by their proximity to each other. Similarly, whilst we all live our own individual lives, it is often through our relationships with the people around us that our existence is imbued with a sense of greater purpose or meaning.

Through her sculptures, which allow viewers to explore her artworks from various angles, along with her manipulation of size in many of her paintings, Kusama encourages her viewers to observe ordinary objects from different perspectives. It is a message that can be taken outside of the art gallery. Living in a world in which political debate is increasingly polarised, and at times feels almost irreconcilably divided, Kusama’s work serves as a poignant reminder of the need to consider things from different perspectives. In doing so, we might open our minds to new possibilities, allowing ourselves to perceive the world in a way that is as rich and complex and wondrous as the worlds that Kusama portrays in her exhibition.

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