Photos by AGO
Since March 22nd marks Yayoi Kusama’s 89th birthday we thought we’d join the fray and share a glimpse of the eccentric Japanese artist behind the kaleidoscopic show. Here are 22 things you might not know about her. Hats off to her unending creativity, and to a genius that improves with each new decade. HBD YK!
- In 2015 Kusama was named by The Artmagazine as the world’s most popular artist (at the ripe age of 86).
- In 2016 she was named one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time
- She’s lent her artistic sensibility to fashion collections with designers like Issey Miyake and Marc Jacobs (during his tenure at Louis Vuitton). At the time, the YK x LV collection was “the largest artist collaboration initiated by any luxury goods or fashion house to date.”
- She speaks openly about her struggles with mental illness and, for more than four decades, has voluntarily called a Tokyo mental hospital home.
- While still a child, Kusama began experiencing “visual and aural hallucinations.” The first time she saw a pumpkin, she imagined that it was speaking to her.
- She dealt with these hallucinations by drawing repetitive patterns, what she would later refer to as “art-medicine.”
- “Phalli’s Field” is a recreation of her first mirrored room, made in 1965, featuring hundreds of red-and-white-spotted fabric penises.
- While living in Japan as a young girl, Kusama sent a letter to American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (she found her address at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo) and, astonishingly, received a response.
- Her correspondence with O’Keeffe gave her the courage to emigrate to the United States in 1957. She sewed money into her clothes to avoid postwar currency controls.
- In the 1960s she hung out with the quintessential NYC art crowd and was good friends with Andy Warhol (who she later accused of stealing her ideas).
- She used to stage performance art events around New York, enticing people to strip naked so she could cover them in polka dots. One of the most well known “happenings”, “Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at the MOMA,” took place in the courtyard at MoMA.
- Kusama once formed a dance squad called the Kusama Dancing Team, made up of a group of young gay men.
- In 1968 she claimed to preside over “the first Homosexual Wedding ever to be performed in the United States,” in a ceremony by the Church of Self-Obliteration, an organization that she herself founded.
- She never married, but had a decade-long relationship with artist Joseph Cornell. “I disliked sex and he was impotent, so we suited each other very well,” she once said.
- In 1975 she suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to Japan, but the art world was clearly not ready to bid her adieu. Her art revival was set in motion in 1989 when the Center for International Contemporary Arts in New York put on a retrospective of her work. The octonegerian now enjoys an almost cult-like following for her infinity nets, dots, and phallic artworks.
- Though she now relies on a wheelchair most of the time, Kusama still paints from 9 am to 6 pm every day, with her canvases laid on tables or propped on the floor.
- Kusama is rarely seen without her trademark fire engine red wig and signature polka dots.
- She has published eight novels, several books of poetry, and has even produced films – including one with musician Peter Gabriel.
- Kusama’s ‘Infinity Net’paintings originally sold for around $200 a piece (in 1959). Today they sell for up to $7.1 million, a record set at Christie’s in 2014.
- Kusama is now the highest-selling living female artist and the ‘Infinity Net’ paintings are her most sought-after pieces.
- Kusama’s very own museum opened in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district last Fall.
- At 89, Kusama is showing no signs of slowing down. “I have so much I want to do [that] I am determined to live until I am 300 years old. Each day I create a new world by making my art. I will never run out of ideas. All I hope to do in the time left is to turn as many of them into concrete forms as possible.”
Photo by BlogTO
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors continues at the AGO until May 27. Visit AGO.ca for more info.