Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A spot of culture - Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern

I was interested to read in the paper today that Damien Hirst's spots may have originated from seeing Yayoi Kusama's work. I have always thought of them as being inspired by Bridget Riley, being more similar in terms of colour, but it seems that Kusama was obsessed with spots long before either of them.

from her website
Kusama's website

Yayoi Kusama in her youth

Not having heard of Kusama until a week or so ago, but keen to see her colourful works after enthusiastic reviews in the press, I took a break from domesticity and jumped on a train in the sunshine for a dose of culture.

Arriving at the Tate I learnt that Kusama was probably inspired to become an artist after her mother told her that she should stop painting. When she was about 10 her mother took all her paints and drawing materials away from her, saying that she would need to marry an important man and become a housewife. A sure recipe for rebellion, and possibly why she felt the need to emigrate to New York in order to escape the restrictions placed on her by Japanese culture in the 1950's.

The video introduction to the exhibition is moving and instructive

The exhibition is extensive and engaging, particularly her detailed drawings based on botanical specimens and the natural world. Visitors to the exhibition were taking photos surreptitiously wherever I looked. It amuses me to watch people trying to take pictures covertly, and regularly being told that photography is prohibited after they have bagged a shot. There must be thousands of photos of the exhibition out there. I made do with a few postcards, including one of "Yellow trees 1994" shown below, not feeling flush enough to buy a signed copy of the catalogue for £150 like the lady in front of me at the till.

The whole room installations of spots and coloured lights are uplifting and give one a sense of being immersed in a fantasy world. The exhibition guide suggests that the spots shown below in 'I'm here but Nothing' might be an attempt by Kusama to visualise and re-stage her own hallucinatory experiences, during which she senses that the visual world is overtaken by endlessly repeated forms. Her mental illness is not discussed in any detail, but it is clear that it hasn't affected her productivity.

I'm here, but Nothing
The only disappointment was the hurried way in which one is moved through the gorgeous infinity room, which is a magnificent end to a stimulating and thought provoking show.

You can see more of her work on Artsy's website here

On the way home I popped into Trafalgar Square for a dose of sparkling water against a clear blue sky.

and along The Strand and Fleet Street where I imagined myself as a tourist, appreciating the architecture with fresh eyes.

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