By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Considered by many to be Japan’s foremost exponent of Pop Art today, Yayoi Kusama brings her Obsessão Infinita exhibition to Rio’s Central Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) this month. Opening on Friday October 11th, more than 100 works including paintings, sculptures, videos, and installations will occupy the CCBB’s Rotunda space, first and second floors.
Curated by Buenos Aires museum MALBA’s Philip Larratt-Smith and Frances Morris, the woman behind Kusama’s 2012 retrospective at London’s Tate Modern, “Obsessão Infinita” represents the first in-depth survey of Kusama’s work to be shown in Latin America. The works span over sixty years (1950-2013) of the artist’s career.
Born in Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan in 1929, into a well-off family of seedling merchants, Kusama received traditional training in Japanese nihonga painting at an early age. Now in her eighties, the avant-garde artist is well-known for working in a variety of media that includes bold colors, patterns and repeated forms using dots and balls, earning her the title of ‘Polka Dot Princess’ in the 1960s.
“My wish was to be a painter one day. So I started painting a lot of pictures from the age of ten,” she says in the documentary “KUSAMA: Princess of Polka Dot”.
“My mother told me that I was not allowed to paint… that one day, I would have to marry someone from a rich family and become a housewife. When I was a girl she took away all my inks and canvases.”
It was also during her early childhood that Kusama began to experience hallucinations that included visions of points and balls. At the same time she began to show obsessive personality traits that would remain with her throughout her life and career.
“My art is an expression of my life, especially my mental illness. It originates from the hallucinations that I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings,” Kasuma said.
Leaving Japan in the late 1950s and traveled to New York City, she went on to become part of the city’s thriving avant-garde art scene, exhibiting alongside luminaries such as Andy Warhol and George Segal. It was in the early 60s that Kusama began to create “net-paintings” that would spread out across large spaces, eventually expanding into room-sized installations that included three-dimensional soft sculptures, mirrors and lights.
In 1973, Kusama returned to Japan, and four years later voluntarily checked herself into the psychiatric hospital where she has stayed ever since. By day, Kusama now works in her gallery across the street from the hospital, occasionally traveling to accompany an opening.
In her “Self-Obliterations” series, Yasuma used dots on objects (including herself) to take away their meaning. “You know, if there’s a cat, I obliterate it by putting polka dot stickers on it. I obliterate a horse by putting polka dot stickers on it,” she told Midori Matsui during a 1998 interview. “And I obliterated myself by putting the same polka-dot stickers on myself.”
To give the Infinite Obsession exhibit in Rio an interactive edge, colored stickers will be distributed to visitors. The dots can be used in the exhibit’s “Sala da Obliteração” (Obliteration Room), a completely white space ready to receive its unique, living artwork.
Elsewhere, visitors walk through thousands of three-dimensional red and white soft sculptures for an immersive polka dot experience in the mirrored room “Campo de falos” (Field of phalluses).
“I love her work and I admire her as an artist,” says Rio street artist Di Couto, who was drawn to the work by her use of bold color and forms. “I admire how she was a strong woman and went against the family and against society for art. I admire her courage. That inspires me a lot.”
What: Yayoi Kusama: Obsessão Infinita
Where: CCBB Rio, Rotunda and Floors 1 and 2, Rua Primeiro de Março 66, Centro
When: October 12th – January 20th, daily 9AM-9PM (closed Tue)