The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama

By Emmy Lee | Posted on August 17th, 2012

Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective is currently on view at the Whitney and her collaboration with luxury good giant Louis Vuitton has put her in their posh storefronts the world round so now seemed as good a time as any to read Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama. I am a big reader of memoirs – I love reading about someone’s life in their own words – and I literally couldn’t put this one down. Kusama’s frank account of her psychological difficulties and her obsessive compulsion to draw, paint and create is fascinating. Based on little more than note from Georgia O’Keeffe to whom Kusama had written as a young woman asking for advice on how to make her way as an artist, Kusama took a leap of faith and moved to New York in 1957. International travel at the time was uncommon and a serious matter; it took Kusama eight years to convince her mother to let her go. Kusama describes a world practically unimaginable today without any of the modern conveniences we’ve come to take for granted (computers, bank machines, and mobile phones) and since the amount of currency you could take out of Japan was strictly regulated, she packed sixty silk kimonos to sell for survival upon her arrival in America. Still, there were days when she literally starved for her art and it’s her single-minded determination that makes this autobiography so compelling. Kusama’s modest start gives way to increased notoriety with her happenings which sometimes turned into public orgies, but she explains that despite her sexually liberated artwork which included phallic soft sculptures, she created these works as a therapy of sorts, to help free her from her deeply rooted fear of sex. In a chapter titled “People I’ve Known, People I’ve Loved” she describes her encounters with art world luminaries including her idol, Georgia O’Keeffe, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, and perhaps most fascinating of all, her romantic relationship with reclusive and obsessive Joseph Cornell. Since 1977 she has resided voluntarily in an open ward at a hospital, completely isolated from the art world, entirely consumed with making her work. Infinity Net takes you to the heart of the avant-garde in New York in the 60s and 70s and to the core of Kusama’s obsessive and powerful practice.


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