Yayoi Kusama: I Want Your Tears to Flow with the Words I Wrote
4 June–31 July 2021
16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW
Victoria Miro is delighted to present Yayoi Kusama’s thirteenth solo exhibition with the gallery. This major presentation of new works features a dynamic installation of paintings from Kusama’s iconic My Eternal Soul series, bronze pumpkins and painted soft sculptures.
Throughout her career, Yayoi Kusama has developed a unique and diverse body of work that, highly personal in nature, connects profoundly with global audiences. Continuing to address the twin themes of cosmic infinity and personal obsession, the works in this exhibition are testament to an artist at the height of her powers. The exhibition is accompanied by a special publication, available from July, that documents this ambitious presentation and features a personal and reflective text by the Japanese poet, critic and curator, Akira Tatehata.
My Eternal Soul
‘I feel My Eternal Soul should no longer be regarded as a “series”, but rather as an abundant world of paintings.’ — Akira Tatehata
The powerful installation of My Eternal Soul paintings in the lower gallery introduces new and recent examples drawn from the artist’s highly celebrated, ongoing series, which she commenced in 2009. These works, at once bold and intensely detailed and conveying extraordinary vitality, are joyfully improvisatory, fluid and highly instinctual.
Writing in the accompanying publication Akira Tatehata comments, ‘Yayoi Kusama has been producing her My Eternal Soul series without break since 2009. I feel it should no longer be regarded as a “series”, but rather as an abundant world of paintings, one whose creation will continue without end…’
Kusama MES 2
‘The faces (self-portraits?) that occasionally pop up – some smiling, some crying, some with mouths gaping – are a further childlike and, indeed, humorous motif unique to this serial world.’ — Akira Tatehata
Akira Tatehata comments, ‘One of the characteristics of My Eternal Soul is the flamboyance of its colours… all the paintings in this exhibition demonstrate her innate talent as a colourist. Even in monochrome, the tones are bright and clear. As in all her paintings, many of the spaces are filled with polka dots or stripes. Yet this doesn’t feel monotonous or mechanically repetitive; if anything, her recent works have become more organic and somehow seductive, with a sense of undulation and vibration. The faces (self-portraits?) that occasionally pop up – some smiling, some crying, some with mouths gaping – are a further childlike and, indeed, humorous motif unique to this serial world.’
Kusama MES 3
‘My Eternal Soul is a luminous hymn to life, a vision that could be described as cosmic, microscopic, or, depending on your point of view, otherworldly.’ — Akira Tatehata
Distilled within Kusama’s My Eternal Soul paintings are the themes and obsessions that characterise her art, encapsulating a surreal and humorous, as well as instinctual approach to art making. Each new work of the ongoing series abounds with imagery including eyes, faces in profile and other more indeterminate forms, often in pulsating combinations of colour. Some appear psychedelically primordial, while others bring to mind ancient landscapes and grand geological patterns.
As Akira Tatehata explains, ‘My Eternal Soul is a luminous hymn to life, a vision that could be described as cosmic, microscopic, or, depending on your point of view, otherworldly – even disturbing. Yet looking at the fifty-odd works in this exhibition, which were mostly painted under pandemic conditions, I was reminded that Kusama’s work is still sustained by her strong will to redeem, through painting, through being a painter, both a world full of unavoidable absurdities, and her own self…’
‘From around 1961 something new appeared in the world of my art. It came to be known as “soft sculpture”. The nets I was painting had continued to proliferate until they had spread beyond the canvas to cover the tables, the floor, the chairs, and the walls.’ — Yayoi Kusama
Installed alongside the paintings are a series of new soft sculptures. They have been a key tenet of Kusama’s oeuvre since the early 1960s, pre-empting many famous examples from that decade and inspiring many others subsequently. The sculptures on view appear as though Kusama’s signature stylistic marks have been released from the canvases they are surrounded by and have organised themselves into three-dimensional forms.
Writing about the genesis of this aspect of her practice Kusama explains, ‘From around 1961 something new appeared in the world of my art. It came to be known as “soft sculpture”. The nets I was painting had continued to proliferate until they had spread beyond the canvas to cover the tables, the floor, the chairs, and the walls. The result of the unlimited development of this obsessional art was that I was able to shed my painter’s skin and metamorphose into an environmental sculptor. I went on finding new ways to turn my obsessions into concrete forms.’
Soft sculptures 2
‘The result of the unlimited development of this obsessional art was that I was able to shed my painter’s skin and metamorphose into an environmental sculptor.’ — Yayoi Kusama
A further work, I Who Was Awestruck at the Shape of the Secret I Found in the Cosmos, incorporates organic forms contained within – yet appearing almost to overflow from – a succession of wall-mounted boxes, and accentuates a tension between notions of containment and release.
‘Pumpkins have been a great comfort to me since my childhood. They speak to me of the joy of living. They are humble and amusing at the same time, and I have and always will celebrate them in my art.’ — Yayoi Kusama
In our upper gallery and waterside garden, we are delighted to premiere a series of bronze pumpkins which take a dynamic new shape, their surfaces impressed with patterns of circles that create a sophisticated geometry.
The pumpkin, or kabocha, with its dotted skin has in various forms been a recurring motif in Kusama’s art since the late 1940s. The artist’s family cultivated plant seeds in Matsumoto, and she was familiar with the kabocha squash in the fields that surrounded her childhood home. At around the same time, the artist first experienced hallucinations in which her surroundings were overtaken by a proliferating pattern that engulfed her field of vision. Explored across scales, colours and media, the pumpkin occupies a special place in her iconography.
The exhibition also features new Pumpkin paintings. Kusama has had an affinity with pumpkins since childhood and its form continues to occupy a special place in her iconography. It is a motif she has returned to throughout her career. The pumpkin form appears in some of her paintings and works on paper as early as 1948. After her return from New York to Japan in the 1970s, Kusama re-engaged with the motif and began making works depicting the pumpkin in various media. The artist has a strong personal identification with the pumpkin, and has described her images of them as a form of self-portraiture. She admires pumpkins for their hardiness and everyday quality, as well as for their unique and pleasing physical qualities.
Each pumpkin possesses a distinct character, as if caught in a particular stage of growth. Arrangements of dots on their plump bodies and curving stems, meanwhile, seem as unique as fingerprints. Enchanted by their ‘charming and winsome’ forms, the artist has said it is the pumpkin’s air of ‘general unpretentiousness’ and ‘solid spiritual balance’ that appeals to her.
Phantom Polka Dots of Fate, Ordained by Heaven, Were the Greatest Gift Ever for Me
Phantom Polka Dots of Fate, Ordained by Heaven, Were the Greatest Gift Ever for Me is a newly realised sculpture comprising a five-sided chamber held aloft on elegant metal legs. Presented within a darkened interior it appears almost to float in the space. The sides of the pentagon, some of which are mirrored, some transparent, both reflect the work’s surroundings and offer views of its contents. Positioned inside are three tentacle-like forms, each lit from within, which rise up through the chamber in a sinuous formation that is repeated in two-dimensional form on a number of the interior panels.
Over the decades, Kusama’s rendering of pumpkin ‘skin’ has grown ever more sophisticated, with lines of dots advancing rhythmically or appearing to twist into elongated vertical vine- or tentacle-like forms, as in this new sculpture. Completed in a signature palette of yellow and black, its dotted vertical forms pulsing with optical energy, the work reflects Kusama’s lifelong preoccupation with the infinite and sublime, as well as the twin themes of cosmic infinity and personal obsession as found in pattern and repetition. For the viewer it is an opportunity to examine the central themes of Kusama’s art: infinite reflection, the bounded and the boundless.
Yayoi Kusama: I Want Your Tears to Flow with the Words I Wrote, a new publication
‘She has been consistent in her willingness to stand up and fight: even today, she still places herself in the avant-garde. Her fight has been one for self-realisation, but also a fight to save the world from war and intolerance.’— Akira Tatehata
This special publication documents the ambitious presentation of works created by Yayoi Kusama for her exhibition I Want Your Tears to Flow with the Words I Wrote. It features a personal and reflective text by the Japanese poet, critic and curator, Akira Tatehata, and is richly illustrated with specially commissioned photography.
Available from 10 July for the special exhibition price of £45, with a limited-edition complimentary tote bag. Click here to reserve a copy.
About the artist
Born in Matsumoto City, Japan, in 1929, Yayoi Kusama lives and works in Tokyo. She is one of the world’s most celebrated artists. Over the past decade there have been museum exhibitions of Kusama’s work touring the world in North America, Japan, Korea, Singapore, China, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Spain, England, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. In 2016, Kusama received the Order of Culture, one of the highest honours bestowed by the Imperial Family. Kusama is the first woman to be honoured with the prestigious medal for drawings and sculptures.
KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature is currently on view at The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York, until 31 October 2021. Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective is at the Gropius Bau in Berlin until 15 August 2021. Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms continues at Tate Modern, London, until 12 June 2022. Exhibitions of My Eternal Soul paintings will be presented at David Zwirner, New York, on 17 June and Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo, on 19 June.