How do you become the biggest artist in the world? Yayoi Kusama’s journey to art-world icon, Instagram phenomenon and market catnip is in no way a straightforward one. A new documentary film by Heather Lenz, Kusama – Infinity, will share the Japanese artist’s fascinating story and will be released to coincide with Frieze fair on Friday October 5, alongside a major exhibition of new work (running from Wednesday October 3 to Friday December 21) at Victoria Miro’s main space in east London – her 12th show with the gallery.
Kusama’s radical practice began in the wake of the second world war, the trauma of which has had a huge influence on her work, as it did on her contemporaries such as Tadanori Yokoo, Tetsumi Kudo and Keiichi Tanaami. Born in 1929 in the city of Matsumoto, she survived the war and a dysfunctional family before studying painting in Kyoto. She travelled to New York in the late 1950s, on the advice of Georgia O’Keeffe. There she immersed herself in the avant garde, creating installations and happenings at a time when being a female artist was boundary breaking.
Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 and committed herself to a psychiatric hospital known for its interest in art. She still lives in this institution today, creating new work every day including sculptures, paintings, installations, poetry, performances and novels. The delicate balance between creation and mental instability is a key component of her work. She is immensely prolific. Her signature motifs – pumpkins, flowers and polka dots – are repeated to the level of obsession. Yet this constant output has positive wider implications. In the film she states, “I convert the energy of life into dots of the universe.”
The show, which is sure to have lines around the block, will include paintings, painted bronze pumpkin and flower sculptures and a new take on her Infinity Mirror Rooms – mirrored installations that reflect a sea of lights into infinity – which this time features painted lanterns. Prices for the work range from $500,000 to $1.5m.
In 2016, Kusama was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world. Now 89 years old, after years of dogged struggles and desire, she is the top-selling female artist in the world. This impressive show and touching documentary prove how much that status is deserved.