By Matt Schley
Yayoi Kusama – she of the red polka dots – is back with her latest Tokyo exhibition, 'My Eternal Soul', which opened February 22 and runs until May 22 at the National Art Center in Roppongi. Here are five reasons why you should check it out.
1. It includes 132 never-before-seen pieces
Among its giant collection of Kusama material, the exhibition contains no less than 132 pieces never before seen in Japan. They're among the 500 paintings that make up Kusama’s 'My Eternal Soul' series, on which she’s been working 'at a frenetic pace' since 2009: National Art Center curator Yusuke Minami estimates that a single painting takes Kusama less than five days. The series, Minami writes, is a 'compendium of all she has experienced and achieved during her 70 years as an artist'. Kind of a big deal, we’d say.
2. You get to see nearly eight decades of art, all in one place
Speaking of Kusama’s 70 years as an artist – she turns 88 next month – the exhibition traces her entire career, starting with an untitled sketch from 1939, drawn at age 10. Split into three major time periods – Kusama’s time in her hometown, Matsumoto, New York and, finally, Tokyo – the exhibition includes the works that have made Kusama most famous, like her 'Infinity Net' paintings, phallic sculptures and, yes, those legendary red polka dots, which are even affixed to the trees outside the museum. To say 'My Eternal Soul' is comprehensive would be quite the understatement.
3. It's set to become the coolest spot for selfies in Tokyo
A selfie in the middle of the Shibuya scramble? So 2016. A selfie in front of a giant Kusama flower sculpture? Now we’re talking. 'My Eternal Soul' is one of a handful of recent big-name exhibitions to allow visitors to snap out their phones ('real' cameras are still a no-no) and snap away. It looks like it’s working: the exhibition’s been open three days and there are already thousands of photos on Instagram and Twitter. Just remember that photography is only allowed in the main exhibit hall.
4. The audio guide is something else
As they enter the hall, exhibition-goers can rent headphone-equipped transceivers that contain an audio guide to the exhibition. Not only does the narration serve as a nice way to gain deeper insights into the work, but many tracks also contain interviews with Kusama herself. Even if you can’t understand Japanese, it’s worth grabbing a pair of the ‘phones just to hear the enthusiasm in the voice of this 87-year-old legend. Oh, and she occasionally sings, too.
5. You get to take a little Kusama home
No exhibition is complete without merchandise, natch, and as with everything Yayoi Kusama is involved in, the 'goods' here are some pretty slickly produced stuff. Among the items we see flying off the shelves are tote bags and adorable polka-dotted plush dolls resembling the artist.
Of note for diehard fans is the official exhibition catalog, a massive 300-page hardcover tome that contains all 132 'My Eternal Soul' paintings on display at the exhibition, plus photos and reproductions of Kusama’s entire body of work, a comprehensive biography, and writings by both the artist herself and critics – in Japanese and English. Just make sure you bring a sturdy bag to carry it all home with.
Photos by Kisa Toyoshima