Sunday, August 01, 2021

Yayoi Kusama - her life and art

I watched a documentary film about Yayoi Kusama this last week which I found fascinating.  

She's exhibited internationally all over the world and her artwork has achieved both the highest turnover at auction in one year and the highest price paid for a female artist. 

Her current exhibition at Tate Modern is sold out until it finishes in October 2021 - but if you'd like to see more of her work and find out about her as an individual and as an artist It's a programme worth watching.

Yayoi Kusama

Kusama: Infinity

Kusama: Infinity (1 hour 20 minutes) is a documentary made by director Heather Lenz in 2017, published in 2018 and broadcast by Arena in 2019 - and repeated last Monday on BBC4. 

It's available for the next 24 days on BBC iPlayer. I'm going to be rewatching it before time is up!.

It provides an insight into the extraordinary life and world of this internationally renowned artist.

Kusama: Infinity - the Life and Art of Yayoi Kusama

The BBC states - about the programme - that
Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama’s work pushed boundaries that often alienated her from her peers and those in power in the art world. Kusama was an underdog with everything stacked against her: the trauma of growing up in Japan during World War II, life in a dysfunctional family that discouraged her creative ambitions, sexism and racism in the art establishment, and mental illness.

Kusama overcame countless odds to bring her radical vision to the world stage and created a legacy of artwork that spans the disciplines of painting, sculpture, performance art, film and literature. Born in 1929, Kusama still creates new work every day. Her Infinity Mirror Room installations, the first of which was created in 1965, continue to attract visitors in record numbers.

The documentary follows the trajectory of her life and her development as an artist, who she met, where she exhibited, the things she tried to do to promote her art.

All the way through it I was struck by her enormous dedication to her art and tremendous persistence in getting a profile in the face of a lot of resistance which was as much about gender as it was about her nationality and the nature of her innovation. I also couldn't believe the number of men who copied her ideas!

"I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieved my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live." Yayoi Kusama

I never ever knew that she had touched base with Georgia O'Keeffe.

In 1973 she returned to Japan after a prolonged period of living in the USA and away from the American art world she became much better known and various luminaries recognised the value of her artwork - which is incredibly diverse.

One of the good things about the film is it spends a lot of time on her artwork - in situ, in transit and in creation and we get shots of both the entire piece as well as macros of aspects of the artwork.

Let's also not forget that she is now 92, has been making art for the last 54 years and is still making art!

One woman artist 

More about Yayoi Kusama

This is Yayoi Kusama's website - which is in English and Japanese.

Just bear in mind who is writing the review of the programme / exhibition when you read them. It's educational if you do.
    It may seem strange for a movie to argue that an artist who at various times has been called the world’s most popular and has set a record for the highest amount paid for a work by a living female artist is somehow undervalued.

    But “Kusama — Infinity,” a documentary from Heather Lenz, makes a convincing case that the art world and the general public are still catching up with the influence of Yayoi Kusama, the painter, sculptor and performance artist perhaps most widely known for her mirrored “Infinity” rooms.
  • ‘Kusama: Infinity’: Film Review | The Hollywood reporter (6 September 2018) ) 
An entertaining account of one of modern art’s most unlikely success stories, Heather Lenz’s Kusama: Infinity charts the many ways Yayoi Kusama was marginalized — sometimes by the prejudices of an era, sometimes thanks to her own eccentricities — before becoming, late in life, one of the world’s most popular living artists. Part talent, part hustle, part pathological insistence on her own way of dealing with the world, it’s an optimistic narrative with plenty of colorful guest stars and should have a slightly broader appeal than the usual art-world portrait.
Plus a female sculptor on Facebook
So she is now the best selling living female artist, but it is definitely not a story of success. Her story made me so cross. Her work was so innovative but instead of getting the success she deserved at the time, her ideas were just stolen by male artists who went on to become household names. She was eventually ground down and her mental health damaged by a series of men, her father (with the help of her mother), the male artists who stole her ideas and the male dominated art world who didn't take her seriously. Briony Marshall Sculptor
Then we have the white males from the establishment media who review films - and gave it just 3 stars!!
  • Kusama: Infinity review – colourful art doc connects the dots | The Guardian - just 3 stars from a man who usually writes about film (because of course it's a film - as opposed to a record of an artist!!!) (5 October 2018)
  • Arena - Kusama: Infinity David Parkinson in Radio Times

    Still working in her 90s, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has led a life as colourful as the polka-dotted pictures that have become her trademark. However, as Heather Lenz reveals in this visually striking, if occasionally factually selective profile, Kusama has also felt the psychological effects of a series of traumatic betrayals and rejections. Growing up in provincial Matsumoto, Kusama was ordered to spy on her adored father by her disapproving mother. On relocating to America, her relationships with fellow painters Georgia O'Keeffe and Joseph Cornell didn't pan out, while Kusama's canvases, soft sculptures and conceptual pieces were often copied by rivals, while she remained in relative obscurity compared to contemporaries like Atsuko Tanaka and Yoko Ono (who don't merit a mention, despite suffering from similar prejudices). However, since returning to Japan in 1973, Kusama has found her audience and the assembled worthies gush about her bold approach to structure, materiality and perspective. It's overly fawning at times, but cinematographer Hart Perry captures the tactile vivacity of Kusama's distinctive oeuvre.

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