I’ll admit that I didn’t think I had heard of Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生) before her exhibition at the Tate Modern was advertised, but under the insistence of my colleagues I decided to go and check it out. I soon realised that I was aware of her work, but I hadn’t been in London when she exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in 2009.
Before heading to the Tate, I decided to pop to the Victoria Miro, which was holding a free “sister” exhibition of Kusama’s work. The Victoria Miro is a small gallery near Angel/Old Street, and it has that small gallery feel. It was practically empty (unlike the Tate when I got there) and I wondered why. People were missing out – in this gallery it was possible to get right up close to Kusama’s pieces, and even take photographs.
I’ve got to say, I like her sculptures a lot more than I like her paintings, although none of it is really art I would want to own (I wouldn’t mind one of the big flowers in my garden though, if I had a garden).
On to the Tate Modern…
The exhibition at the Tate Modern had a totally different feel to it. Despite the £10 ticket price, it was packed. The crowds of people made it a little unpleasant to walk around, and I found myself unable to really look at Kusama’s work because of constant distractions from other people. You’re not actually allowed to take photos inside the Tate’s Kusama exhibition. To be honest, everyone was ignoring the signs and taking photos anyway, but I decided to stick to the rules and only take photos outside the ticketed part of the exhibition.
I bought one postcard of the final room, but even that doesn’t really do it justice:
That final room (Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life), and a black-light room covered in white dots (I’m Here, but Nothing), were both pretty cool, but I guess Kusama’s work isn’t really my favourite kind of art, although it is interesting.
The thing that comes across most strongly in Kusama’s work is her madness. I don’t mean that in any derogatory way; Kusama has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric institution since 1977. She is, quite literally, dotty – obsessed with painting dots on everything. I wonder which came first – the madness or the art? Or if they’re simply fed by each other. I mean, painting millions and millions of little dots on things would be enough to drive anyone a bit crackers, so why do it, unless you’re mad already? Even Kusama’s Infinity Net paintings, which appear at first glance to be plain white canvases, are actually covered in thousands of dots. My colleague raved about these pieces, but to me they looks a bit like wallpaper. Sorry.
(Image courtesy of Yayoi Kusama’s website)
There’s no doubt that Kusama is up there with the greats like Andy Warhol, and her work can certainly bring in a crowd, but I’m left with one question: why?
The exhibition at the Victoria Miro has finished now, but the Tate Modern exhibition is on until 5th June. For more information, please visit the Tate’s website.