Kusama: In­fin­ity

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - In­fin­ity Mir­rored Rooms, Ho­mo­sex­ual Wed­ding, Kusama: In­fin­ity,

From an early age, sculp­tor and in­stal­la­tion artist Yayoi Kusama, bet­ter known pro­fes­sion­ally as sim­ply Kusama, strug­gled to as­sert her­self and find ac­cep­tance for her artis­tic im­pulses. Born in Ja­pan in the late 1920s to an af­flu­ent mer­chant fam­ily who cared noth­ing for her art, she suf­fered abuse at the hands of her mother. She has fought a life­long bat­tle with de­pres­sion, and has seen her ideas stolen and ex­e­cuted by more es­tab­lished artists who were lauded for their in­ge­nu­ity.

Film­maker Heather Lenz’s de­tails the tough road Kusama trav­eled to make a name for her­self in the art world in the face of the ex­pec­ta­tions that Ja­panese so­ci­ety placed on women and the ram­pant misog­yny the artist en­coun­tered in both her na­tive land and the United States. Art doc­u­men­taries tend to go in two direc­tions: One is a fo­cus on the artist’s cre­ations, the other is a fo­cus on bi­og­ra­phy. Lenz does both, but there’s a strong em­pha­sis on Kusama’s life — and it’s a story that needs to be told.

That Lenz lures the viewer with won­der­fully shot views of Kusama’s in­stal­la­tions is more than mere ic­ing on the cake. Vi­brant painted dots fill en­tire rooms. Gal­leries are chock­ablock with or­ganic phal­lic and gourd-like sculp­tures, also cov­ered in her sig­na­ture dots. And there are im­mer­sive en­vi­ron­ments il­lu­mi­nated by en­chant­ing light, as well as her from which the film takes its ti­tle. There’s a dis­tinct lack of dark­ness in the works of Kusama that seems al­most at odds with the psy­cho­log­i­cal de­spair she has ex­pe­ri­enced. Kusama’s art is a vivid, mag­i­cal, and joy­ful ex­pres­sion, yet it was done in fierce op­po­si­tion to the sav­agery of so­ci­etal ex­pec­ta­tions, au­to­cratic at­tempts to cen­sor her, and the hor­rors of war. In ef­fect, her work is a protest.

Kusama rat­tled the pub­lic with un­ortho­dox staged hap­pen­ings in the 1960s, ap­pear­ing nude in New York’s Cen­tral Park as a way of call­ing at­ten­tion to the war in Viet­nam. She even of­fered to have sex with Richard Nixon if he would bring the troops home. She fa­mously of­fi­ci­ated at the

at a Walker Street venue known as the Church of Self-oblit­er­a­tion. She had ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships with artists Don­ald Judd and Joseph Cor­nell. But the buzz and ex­cite­ment of the New York art scene took its toll, and men took gross ad­van­tage of her. Pop artist Andy Warhol was so taken with her in­stal­la­tion work that, soon after see­ing it, he adopted her style to his own ends. Time and again, white male artists ap­pro­pri­ated her work, copy­ing it al­most ex­actly.

A har­row­ing pas­sage de­scribes a sui­cide at­tempt when she launched her­self out of a win­dow, one of sev­eral at­tempts she made to end her life. The in­stance led to her re­turn­ing to Ja­pan, where she be­came a res­i­dent of the Seiwa Hospi­tal for the Men­tally Ill. The por­trait Lenz presents is that of a sur­vivor — one whose tenac­ity was in serv­ing a higher pur­pose than sur­vival alone. Kusama dresses in char­ac­ter­is­tic polka-dot­ted clothes that re­sem­ble her art­work, along with a shock of dis­tinc­tive scream­ing red-dyed hair. She’s an artist who has out­lived many of her de­trac­tors; she gained the up­per hand as well as in­ter­na­tional fame by em­brac­ing and be­com­ing what the world told her she could not. — Michael Abatemarco

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