The Yayoi Kusama Museum in Waseda holds exhibitions of the illustrious Japanese artist’s work, displaying both fan favorites and new additions in all of their glory across the museum’s five floors. In March 2022, the museum once again, opened its doors for the artist’s “A Poem in my Heart” (stylized as “A POEM IN MY HEART”) exhibition. On display are works from the 1950s, from the artist’s earlier life, up until her most recent projects, allowing visitors to see a wide range of her raw and visceral interpretations of life, love, existence and what it means to be human.
“A Poem in my Heart” comprises a diverse body of Kusama’s works from Japanese-style paintings known as nihonga, to oil and acrylic paintings, pastel, collage and both indoor and outdoor sculptures and installations. Her iconic dots, the art style Kusama is widely known for, appear across multiple works throughout the exhibition. We can see the artist’s iconic mark emerging in her work in the early 1950s. She had, however, experimented with the dots and nets as early as the late 1930s.
A Journey Through a Timeline
Some of the world-renown artist’s earlier pieces produced in the 1950s including “Corpses” and “Ancient Fire” are displayed on the second floor of the museum and showcase Kusama’s growth and development in which one can find proximity to the surrealist scene.
Visitors make their way through the museum as if undertaking a journey of their own through the stages of life depicted in the artist’s work. The floors of the museum almost feel as if they represent different phases of life.
Much of Kusama’s artistic inspiration comes from experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations throughout her youth and also from visions that overflow from her ‘inner world.’ And Kusama’s impressive body of work continues to grow each year along with her.
Now 93 years old, Kusama’s personal and artistic focuses are evident in her recent work, some of which are being publicly displayed for the very first time in Japan or in the world.
Her latest series of acrylic paintings depict visions that appear inside the artist’s mind as she moves her brush across the canvas. The collection of paintings covers an entire wall of the third floor from top to bottom, many of them produced during the Covid-19 pandemic period including “Behold the figure of one who survived isolation beautifully,” and “Humanity’s fiery spirit is manifest at carnival, let us pray for peace and, yes, ignite more flames.”
Paintings with thought-provoking titles and imagery such as, “My journey through life awestruck by the dazzling spectacle of our magnificent planet” and “I sing my eternal spirit” reflect the artist coming to terms with life, love and morality. Many others also feature, in their titles and scenes, Kusama’s long-time mission of reinvigorating the world and its people through the power of love and world peace. These are forces the artist believes the world is in need of most.
Diagonally, “Life (Repetitive Vision)” draws visitors deeper into the room’s center. The three-dimensional fabric sculpture of black and yellow, a color combo favorited by the artist, forms into tentacle-like pinnacles which appear to erupt from beneath the museum’s hardwood floor. Each pinnacle differs in size and shape from the last but all are covered in dots that appear to expand and constrict as they wrap around the shapes’ contours, combining otherworldly patterning with forms that are very familiar and organic.
Total Immersion in Dots
The museum’s fourth floor routinely used for installations has also been revamped for the “I’m Here, but Nothing” room-sized installation. The room which is furnished like an ordinary living space is anything but. The space is blacked out and everything in it is speckled with hundreds of dot decals that are illuminated by overhead fluorescent blue lighting. Standing in the center of the room slightly alters visitors’ perceptions of space and scale, as everything appears to be floating within the colorful constellation of a bit-sized universe.
The museum’s open-air rooftop on the fifth floor is home to life itself, quite literally.
“Life,” Kusama’s recent sculpture, sparkles in the soft sunlight in silvers and golds. The light enters from the open ceiling, casting glittering reflections onto the surrounding white wall.
From the top floor, visitors can ride the red-spotted elevator back down, as if transported by Kusama’s very imagination.
“A Poem in my Heart” superbly highlights the incredible feats artist Yayoi Kusama has achieved throughout her highly accomplished and genre-defining career. Despite being less than a decade away from turning 100, Yayoi Kusama shows absolutely no signs of slowing down and continues to produce work that is explorative of both herself and the mysterious and remarkable world around her.
Top and feature image credit: Yayoi Kusama, LIFE, 2015 Installation view at YAYOI KUSAMA MUSEUM, Tokyo 2022 © YAYOI KUSAMA
For more details about the exhibition, see our event listing.