Art Review: Yayoi Kusama at the Victoria Miro Gallery

“The paintings are filled with an overflowing abundance of ideas that just keep bubbling up inside my mind.” —Yayoi Kusama

A relentless production of work distinguishes the 87-year old Japanese artist, as her surrealistic environments enthral countless spectators of her art. By cultivating from her garden of imagination, Kusama’s fruitful creations range from the structural to the ephemeral; the characteristic play with mirrors, motifs and motives serves as a beacon to her complexity. An innovator in her understanding of various art forms, Kusama remains one of the finest un-mappable figures of the avant garde.

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Upon entering the “Chandelier of Grief”, one is welcomed into a sanctuary containing a series of long mirrors, which encircle the viewer. A glimmering chandelier serves as the centrepiece, with lights that pulsate rhythmically as it slowly rotates. The dark, fantastical setting leaves the viewer drifting in an endless space, inviting a contemplative mood, as to navigate Kusama’s disarming geometric landscape. By counterbalancing the vast scale with the intimate, the baroque style offers a theatrical setting wherein the viewer is enshrined in a crystalline lattice, reflecting into the infinity. Kusama’s work leaves one cast in its enchantment, as the ornate wonderland divulges in our curiosity of self-scrutiny. Rewardingly, the viewer’s full integration with an art form enables the possibility for a living thing to merge with an abstract concept.

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Displayed in the first floor gallery, “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” is the first mirror pumpkin room Kusama has been creating since 1991. Interestingly, the pumpkin form is a motif in her artwork, which first appeared in the late 1940s. In Kusama’s early childhood, she began to succumb to overwhelming visual and auditory hallucinations, leaving her “dazzled and dumbfounded” by repeating patterns that engulfed her vision with a flashing radiance; this experience of rhythmic patterns, lends a surreal synesthetic quality to Kusama’s mirrored room. The interior of this space contains a field of bright pumpkin lanterns, which continuously repeat against the backdrop of the mirrored walls. Skilfully, Kusama conveys the illusion of dreamlike spaces, as the viewer is left unanchored within a boundless panorama of glowing vegetation within a contained site.

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Transitioning outside onto the gallery’s terrace, one encounters a polished, stainless steel cube, poetically named “Where the Lights in My Heart Go”. The cubic form is punctured with holes, which in daylight creates an enthralling constellation within the structure; Kusama refers to this as a “subtle planetarium”, offering a space in which to ponder at the wonders of the cosmic realm. Alongside this structure is a pond, which features the striking “Narcissus Garden”, a permanent installation within the gallery. The work features a series of mirrored spherical forms that huddle together, akin to a “kinetic carpet” in the eyes of Kusama. In the age of social media, which enables a greater amount of visual self-reflexivity, the works are a pertinent comment on the nature of our relationship with distorted mirror images.

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Although Kusama’s mirror installations garner attention from visitors, due to their immersive and otherworldly quality, her paintings should also be looked at with an eye of curiosity. The exploration of infinity, illusion and repetition merge wonderfully in the vibrant paintings. In particular, the “My Eternal Soul” series encompasses these central philosophies of her artistic voyage. Composed of nebulous forms across the canvas, they bring to life Kusama’s incongruent thoughts merging as one whole. Each painting is filled with organic imagery and fluid forms, evoking the division of cellular structures. The vivacious blends of colour lend a sense of immediacy, guiding us back to a primordial state, bringing to mind the essence of wild, ancient landscapes. The depiction of the state of flux brings to light the sense of disorientation, as Kusama astutely depicts the nomadic journey towards self-definition in a senseless and absurd world.


Yayoi Kusama’s work will be displayed at the Victoria Miro gallery until the 30th of July 2016.

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