The Whitney Museum of American Art opens "Yayoi Kusama"

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama turns her hallucinations into polka-dotted pieces of art at the Whitney Museum.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy Yayoi Kusama

    Self-Obliteration in "Yayoi Kusama" at the Whitney Museum of American Art

  • Photograph: Courtesy Yayoi Kusama

    "Accumulations" in "Yayoi Kusama" at the Whitney Museum of American Art

  • Photograph: Courtesy Yayoi Kusama

    Fireflies on the Water from "Yayoi Kusama" at the Whitney Museum of American Art

  • Photograph: Laurent Bremaud

    Yayoi Kusama's collaboration with Louis Vuitton

  • Photograph: Laurent Bremaud

    Yayoi Kusama's collaboration with Louis Vuitton

Photograph: Courtesy Yayoi Kusama

Self-Obliteration in "Yayoi Kusama" at the Whitney Museum of American Art

July 12–September 30, 2012 • 945 Madison Ave at 75th St (212-570-3600, whitney.org). Wed, Thu, Sat, Sun 11am–6pm; Fri 1–9pm. $18; seniors, adults 19–25 and students $12; ages 18 and under free.


This July, Yayoi Kusama's Whitney Museum retrospective will showcase Fireflies on the Water for the first time since 2004. Step inside the glowing installation, then check out Kusama's polka-dot-covered Self-Obliteration portrait and sculptures from her "Accumulations" series.


RECOMMENDED: Full summer museum exhibit guide


Highlights

Self-Obliteration

In this self-portrait, the young Japanese artist is standing amid a thicket of twigs and branches, not far from a parked car. Though the artist’s gaze is striking and her surroundings intriguing, it’s the green and red polka dots covering the work that make the biggest impact. Inspired by the hallucinations she’s experienced since childhood, polka dots are the definitive motif of Kusama’s career.

But instead of allowing her dotted illusions to cripple her, Kusama has celebrated them, duplicating the spotty visions in this work and countless others. Guided by the belief that “obliterating” her individuality with dots will allow her to exist as part of the infinite universe, she polka-dotted everything from trees to naked bodies in her 1967 art-house documentary, also titled Self-Obliteration, created during her heyday as a rising star in 1960s NYC.

“Accumulations”

Though more toned-down than the nude “happenings” Kusama organized in the 1960s, these sculptures are still highly suggestive. Comprising phallic protrusions swelling from inanimate objects, the stuffed and sewn works are rife with contradiction. The cloth bulges appear soft and harmless, yet their odd presence on furniture, clothing and accessories makes them anything but inviting. This chair is displayed alongside similar pieces in an installation; many of the sculptures incorporate cast-off furnishings found on New York’s streets.

Fireflies on the Water

Some of Kusama’s earlier works are often described as unsettling, but this installation has a mellow vibe: Mirrored walls, 150 hanging lights and a pool of water create an immersive celestial environment. Viewers enter Kusama’s dazzling den one by one, experiencing 360 degrees of seemingly endless space. But standing in the room, you will see your reflection everywhere. Another interpretation of Kusama’s hallucinations and her obsession with infinity, Fireflies on the Water was included in the Whitney Biennial 2004. Now part of the museum’s permanent collection, it opened earlier than the full “Yayoi Kusama” exhibition, but it’s nonetheless being displayed in this rare public viewing.


Also check out

Roy Lichtenstein, Indian with Pony

Before this New York–born artist was painting damsels in distress à la classic comic strips, the American West inspired much of his work. This print, rendered from a wood carving, is part of “Signs & Symbols”—an exhibit of 1940s and ’50s items from the permanent collection. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this piece is its stark contrast to the colorful Pop Art that made Lichtenstein famous.


Go here afterward

Louis Vuitton

Coinciding with Kusama’s Whitney retrospective is a collaboration between the artist and Louis Vuitton; check out the window displays mimicking the artist’s designs at the French luxury brand’s U.S. flagship. • 212-758-8877, louisvuitton.com

  1. 1 E 57th St. at Fifth Ave

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