I have to confess that I’d never previously heard of Kusama before I received the notification about the exhibition from the Tate, and the picture on the postcard they sent didn’t entice me to want to pay it a visit. But my interest was piqued by an article I saw about the show on the television, so I went.
I think it would be fair to say that having seen the exhibition I feel better educated rather than inspired by it. In many ways the most affecting thing was to think about her life, its many vicissitudes and her unquenchable appetite to continue to make work. A woman born in pre war Japan who lived through the terrible destruction it wreaked and who travelled to the US in the 1950s to live a hand to mouth existence, but who struggles constantly with mental illness; it’s an astonishing story.
Many of the pieces reflect her obsession with repetition, large canvases show obsessively applied dots and eyes, sculptures are covered with dried spaghetti shapes or scores of phalluses, a furnished room lit only by ultra violet light reflects the luminescent coloured dots which are stuck to every surface. Some of the pieces, the ‘happenings’ and movie, have the look of a past era, a time in the 1960s when the purpose of the work was to shock, now look tame and a little bit quaint; a manifesto encouraging people to not all look the same produced a group of hippies ….. all looking identical….
There are letters on display, one from Georgia O’Keefe, huge gothic script, just a tiny bit patronising, from an established artist to an emerging one, one from a Dutch curator urging in stilted idiosyncratic English the importance of making good, challenging art.
My favourite piece was a dark mirrored room illuminated by bulbs suspended on wires of varying lengths. The bulb colours changed in a co-ordinated way, and repeatedly reflected in the ceiling walls and floor challenged my sense of perspective and concept of the edge of things. The infinite repetition of the dots of light created a sort of horizon, a concentration of illumination which drew the eye into a far off distance, a slightly disorienting sensation.
If there is inspiration to be found in the show, it is of the necessity to keep on working and to experiment not matter what difficulties are thrown in your path……