Japan’s Yayoi Kusama enters Singapore with dots and love
Heart of a Rainbow
Published: Jun 08, 2017 05:53 PM



With All My Love for the Tulips, I pray Forever by Yayoi Kusama Photo: Courtesy of the National Gallery Singapore


 Yayoi Kusama Photo: Courtesy of the National Gallery Singapore

What would you expect to see if you went to an exhibition of famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's artwork?

Polka dots covering everything? A range of psychedelic colors? Pumpkin motifs and a room where you can take selfies?

Well, this is exactly what you will get if you head to the National Gallery Singapore, which kicked off on Tuesday the largest showcase of her work ever displayed in Southeast Asia at the Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibition.  

70-year art career

Featuring over 120 works spanning 70 years of the 88-year-old Kusama's artistic career, the exhibition, which follows shows in Washington D.C. and Tokyo, offers an unprecedented opportunity to explore the creative journey of one of the world's most widely recognized artists.

According to Eugene Tan, director of the National Gallery Singapore, the Kusama show, which took organizers about one year to make happen, includes not only the artist's important signature pieces, such as her infinity net paintings and infinity mirror rooms, but also her most recent works - a cluster of soft sculptures and several paintings from her My Eternal Soul series.

In addition, Kusama's mirrored "peep room" that was specially created for the exhibition, I Want to Love on the Festival Night, sits alongside some of her rarely seen artworks that explore the human body through installation works, performance art, sculpture and painting.

"The remarkable work and life of Yayoi Kusama has entranced millions across the globe and her signature motifs of dots, nets and pumpkins have entered the popular imagination. The exhibition, which will feature seven decades of her unrelenting artistic production, is a key part of the gallery's mission to feature major artists and artistic developments from the 19th century until today. We see Kusama's work as a powerful introduction to important modern art movements and methods such as Surrealism, Pop, Minimalism, Performance and Conceptual art," Tan told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"By presenting a wide range of works across the artist's long career, we hope that audiences in Singapore and Southeast Asia will gain a new appreciation of an artist who now has a firm place in global and regional art history, and is widely considered an iconic figure in popular culture."

Connect the dots to fame

Pointing back to the 2006 Singapore Biennale, Tan recalled how well Kusama's public art installation was received and admired by the public. For the biennale, she covered all the trees on a stretch of Orchard Road, one of the most well-known roads in Singapore, in polka-dot fabric, one of her characteristic motifs. Some of the trees were also decorated further with polka-dot covered balls.

The 1929-born avant-garde Japanese artist's fame isn't limited to Singapore. She has been a cultural sensation in artistic and fashion circles around the world since her revival in the 1980s.

In China, after Louis Vuitton released its Yayoi Kusama collection with signature bold spots in 2012, she instantly gained a huge following. One year later, when her exhibition toured to Shanghai for the very first time, visitors had to line up for hours even on weekdays to see her works at the Power Station of Art.

Her paintings have become a favorite of young Chinese collectors. Her 1989 small-sized painting, Ash Dish, easily nabbed more than 1.26 million yuan ($189,750) on Saturday at the Spring Auction held by Chinese auction house Council.

Back in October 2015, her 1960 large-sized oil on canvas No. Red B sold for $7 million, propelling Kusama to No.2 on the list of the world's most valuable living female artists.

"Kusama's world is complex: full of color and powerful symbolism. In each of her works you are transported into a universe that is deeply intimate as well as potentially boundless," said Russell Storer, co-curator of the exhibition with Adele Tan and deputy director of curatorial and collections at the gallery.

'Until my last breath'

"It is not only her work, with its instantly identifiable dots and nets, but also the striking image of the artist herself that has entered the popular imagination," said Storer.

The exhibition begins with a small group of works from the 1950s, made while the artist was living in Matsumoto, Japan. At the time she struggled to paint and to become an artist, a goal to which her parents were strongly opposed.

"As an artist, I am convinced this can only be achieved by struggling desperately and risking my life to inspire and share my passion with people around the world. This is my belief, and I want it to be delivered as my message throughout the world," the artist said in a video shown at the opening of the exhibition.

"I want to keep fighting until my last breath. It is my most earnest wish and greatest pleasure to imagine that the slightest touch of my desire in creation, hope and passion towards art are sensed by everyone even after my death," she remarked.

The show will travel to the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane in November after it ends its Singapore run on September 3.