As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I’ve been trying to connect with the dot for some time now, but from an interior design perspective. Polka dots are rampant in fashion, but quite elusive when it comes to decor.
A couple of Friday’s ago I posted this picture on our Facebook Page in celebration of Polka Dots. In truth, I really just loved the electricity, or shall I say eccentricity of this woman. I knew from the article that she was the muse behind Louis Vuitton’s dotted endeavor, but never would I have imagined what lied beneath those polka dotted glasses, until I turned on the CBS Sunday Morning News and there she was; 83 year old, Japanese Artist, Yayoi Kusama.
I finally connected!
As I watched Kusama’s life story unfold, I was finally able to connect the dots. I saw the dot from a different perspective — Art. I wasn’t trying to pull patterns together to incorporate polka dots; I was looking at these dots through the lens of Kusama. And what a lens it is; a very complex lens.
Kusama awakens every morning to a world visually freckled with polka dots. She’s been wearing polka dots since the pop era of the 1960’s. Kusama’s dotted fixation stems from lifelong hallucinations, a result of a stressful childhood fighting against the mental anxiety associated with the difficulties of her life; art was and still is her escape. I was so captivated by her story; I just couldn’t help digging deeper.
Kusama landed in America in 1957. Her journey was burdened with obstacles, but her determination to leave the confines of Japan to live in the place she had dreamed of fueled her desire. Customary to the Japanese culture, Kusama’s parents wanted to marry her off to a wealthy man. She had to escape. It took her 8 years to convince her mother to allow her to leave. But how would she get to America? She had no connections; until she stumbled upon a book of paintings by Georgia O’Keefe. This was the thread that would lead Kusama to America. She wrote a letter to O’Keefe expressing her desire to get to America at all costs, and sent several of her watercolors to her in hope of a reply. Astounded, Kusama received a very encouraging letter back, and many more followed. O’Keefe’s letters fueled Kusama’s fire; this was all the encouragement she needed to set her dream in motion.
Kusama was able to obtain a sponsor and a visa. She illegally exchanged a million yen into American dollars to cover travel expenses. She smuggled the money out by sewing the bills into her dress and stuffing the rest into the toes of her shoe. She packed sixty kimonos and two thousand of her drawings & paintings and off she went in pursuit of her dream.
Fast forward to 2006 when Mark Jacobs, the visionary behind Louis Vuitton, meets Kusama. Upon his visit she took great pleasure in showing off a Louis Vuitton Speedy she had hand painted herself. He admired her boundless energy & admired her work. This was where the polka dot would meet the monogram.
The collaboration between Kusama and Louis Vuitton officially launched in July of 2012. Vuitton’s collection coincided with a major retrospective of Kusama, which traveled from Paris to London, and is ending in New York City at the Whitney Museum this weekend, September 30th.
I couldn’t miss this! I was hot to trot for this dot, so off to the Whitney I went!
Knowing Kusama’s story before visiting the Whitney had such profound meaning as I took in her work. It wasn’t until I entered the documents room where I truly discovered the depth & complexity of this princess of polka dots. As I read through the documents, I was floored by the scandalous life she led while she was in New York. She joined the Avante Garde scene when she arrived in 1957, this is where she met Andy Warhol. Kusama was beautiful, rebellious and had absolutely no fear.
In 1965 she started staging Spontaneous Happenings around New York; her “Love Forever” campaign. It was an early protest against the Vietnam War. Her escapades made her a regular tabloid fixture. She was second to Andy Warhol in her notoriety and she eventually surpassed him.
Woodstock was the perfect era for Kusama; she was all about peace & love. She was a true free spirit; a perfect hippie. She hosted polka dot orgies where she obliterated everything & everyone around her with polka dots, and invited everyone to polka dot dance parties; Woodstock style.
Kusama considered herself a modern day Alice in Wonderland (to pay homage to Kusama’s source of inspiration, Louis Vuitton proposed a limited edition of the classic, illustrated by Kusama). It was amazing to see a press release inviting everyone to her Mad as a Hatter Tea Party — Rendezvous at the Alice in Wonderland Statue in Central Park. Freedom, fantasy, nudity, polka dot obliteration, and tea served at the appropriate time of 5:00PM.
In 1968 Kusama branched out into Fashion; peek-a-boo, see through, open pants & polka dot painted flesh. She didn’t believe in imprisonment of any form; she wanted to express freedom in her designs, which she felt radiated life & energy.
My favorite was her Open Letter to My Hero Richard Nixon. Imagine standing in front of the NY Board of Elections and directing these words to the President of the United States “...Our earth is like one little polka dot…let’s you & I change all of that and make this world a new Garden of Eden..Let’s forget ourselves dear Richard and become one…we’ll gently, very gently paint each other with polka dots, lose our egos in timeless eternity… I must have read this letter five times. I wonder if she ever received a response.
After taking in all of the tales of Kusama’s life I went through the exhibit again. Her early works were extremely different than her current paintings; they were much darker and on a smaller scale. Her paintings today are grand and bright. There was one common thread that did carry through all of her work — chaos. As I examined the paintings & installations, I could feel turmoil, the tugging and pulling; the noise in her mind was palpable. For Kusama, the continual repetition of her painting controls the noise, it validates her presence. Each repetitive motion says I am here, I am here.
Kusama’s first infinity net painting sold for $5.1 million; a record for a living female artist.
Kusama left New York in 1973 and has since voluntarily lived in a psychiatric hospital. Each day she leaves the hospital and travels across the street to her studio where she paints from 9 to 6.
Kusama made a promise to herself at the top of the Empire State Building when she arrived in New York; she vowed to take New York by storm and make a name for herself with her art. Well, she sure kept that promise. She came, she saw, she conquered, and she’s still conquering.
A home without Art is a home without soul. Kusama has poured her soul out onto thousands of canvases throughout her entire life, and she will continue to fill the world with her paintings until her one, soulful dot leaves the infinite dots of this world. What will remain is the wondrous, polka dotted diary of Yayoi Kusama’s mind, her soul, her life — Her Art.
Every home needs a soul…and a few polka dots…