Review: Eternal Love for the Pumpkins – Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro
Yayoi Kusama: Enigmatic, forwardthinking – just don't call her surreal...
By Rhianne Sinclair-Phillips
Yayoi Kusama is one of the art world’s most enigmatic and forward thinking artists of the late century. She’s used a canvas to comment on the spectacle of pop culture and attracted attention from everyone from the police to Louis Vuitton. Don’t call Kusama a “surrealist-pop artist”, she doesn’t care for this kind of labelling. Yet despite developing a style that straddles across the two genres she still remains an outsider that cannot be classified. Her deliriously recognisable painting style is one that relies on an interior imagination that’s vivid, repetitive and dark. These elements form the basis of the immersive Victoria Miro gallery exhibition running from the 25th May to 30th July. Spanning across the gallery’s three London locations and waterside gardens, the exhibition features new paintings, mirror rooms and pumpkin sculptures.
Dots and patterns cover her surroundings as a natural extension of her hallucinatory vision, developed from a tragic childhood. As an artist she makes what she sees in her mind to be physically alive. This compulsive repetition of dots is most notably witnessed in the Infinity Nets. Owing to a fascination with the waves and ripples of the ocean, the series embodies the artist’s subconscious spontaneity with every brush stroke. Each piece is as ambitious as the last, casting a painted net across the canvases to invoke feelings of entrapment.
Kusama was committed to a mental institution during the early 1970s, where she voluntarily remains to this day. Looking at Infinity Nets, you discover how her trademark pattern is a way to break from a traumatic past filled with violence and philandering. But in recent years this obsession with dots that’s come to mark her legacy has often upstaged her work in other mediums - mirrored rooms and sculpture - to which the new exhibition places in the spotlight.
The three mirrors rooms, created especially for the show, ponder the confounding distinction between the darkness of isolation and light to coax the feeling of infinity. On first impression Chandelier to Grief is simply a white hexagon placed in the centre of the gallery. You wouldn’t imagine being locked in a endless room of mirrors with nothing but a flicking chandelier to keep you company. It’s a theatrical setting that demands contemplation. A sudden sense of loneliness takes over because who wants to be alone in a what feels like a house? When the artists sets the stage, the props are there to puzzle, mock and possibly terrify but most likely what Chandelier to Grief reveals is anxiety.
Kusama’s All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins is a precisely conceived, sublime space. She extends the structure of her bronze pumpkin sculptures met on the journey to the installation by surrounding the room with a field of intensely coloured lantern pumpkins covered in her signature rhythmic pattern of black and yellow spots. A repeated reflection in mirrored walls and ceilings coveys the illusion of being adrift in an endless landscape, where moments of personal vulnerability come to form. It is the silence of these figures as they surround you that will perhaps expose fear.
If its the theme of infinity, personal obsession or isolation, Kusama confronts it. She wants you to be alone with your thoughts. It is a scary feeling that’s most notably experienced when entering Where My Heart Goes. Located in the gallery’s water terrance, the stainless steel room punctured with small holes beckons in natural light. Stand in silent towards the centre to listen to your surroundings. The sound of water gently crashing into the pond or the conversations taking place outside develops a heightened sense of self-awareness often lost in the rhythm of everyday life.
Whether contemplating new ways of articulating humour with the ongoing My Eternal Soul series or finding new modes to highlight obsession, Kusama creates art in which anxiety, fear and pleasure can erupt at any moment. Her art has no boundaries in an era where mental health is beginning to enter the social conversation. Through the lens of the sublime her work reveals the bonds between our public selves and our private fears and follies. Welcome to her world.
About Rhianne Sinclair-Phillips
Rhianne is a freelance writer and curator based in London. An alumna of Central Saint Martins, she has edited and produced the art criticism journal Unknown Quantities. She writes on contemporary culture covering music, art and celebrity culture from a critical perspective.