Kusama–Infinity

The art of critically-acclaimed Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama,  now commands the highest price for any female artist alive today.  As an art-world superstar, Kusama has attracted millions of  museum-goers worldwide who wait for hours for the chance to take selfies to post on Instagram in one of her mirrored Infinity Rooms.  Yet little is known of this nonagenarian artist obsessed with dots and the film Kusama-Infinity reveals much about the artist.  She committed herself to a mental hospital in the 1970s, out of fear that she might commit suicide.  Her long arduous road to success was painful and took decades to reach.

Infinity follows a young and beautiful Kusama whose tortuous path not only reveals the artist’s persistence, resilience, and confidence but also her understanding of women’s rights, sexual freedom,  and gay rights in the US.  She symbolically performed the first gay marriage in the US,  in Central Park,  long before most Americans were cognizant of the cultural revolution about to take over the mainstream psyche. 

Endlessly courageous, Kusama aggressively promoted her work in the male-dominated artworld of New York City, only a decade after the end of the Second World War.  Despite staggering odds, this petite, unassuming Japanese woman, speaking faltering English, was determined to exhibit her art as she wanted, not as the gatekeepers of the artworld demanded. 

Infinity suggests that Yayoi Kusama’s mental illness may have stemmed from a traumatic childhood.  Both her parents wanted her to have a traditional Japanese marriage, with an upper class lifestyle.  Instead, the young artist escaped to New York City. While Kusama was waiting for recognition, she had an intimate but nonsexual relationship with the famous artist, Joseph Cornell. Under the mentorship of Georgia O’Keefe, Kusama had her first important gallery show.  Frank Stella became an avid collector of her work as well as a supporter.

Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, among others, “borrowed heavily”from Kusama’s work which was still relatively obscure while these male artists became sensations.   This repeated pattern, with white male artists being recognized for work that seemed influenced by her own innovations, understandably upset Kusama. The theft of her ideas may have been a catalyst for her depression and decision to return to Japan in the late 70s.

Slowly, as Kusama reached her late sixties, her art became fully acknowledged and skyrocketed in value. The 1993 Venice Biennale exemplified the art world’s recognition.

Infinity should have broad appeal as this film is also a condemnation  of the patronizing art overseers and their impact as gatekeepers of  what art becomes internationally recognized.

Note:  Kusama–Infinity is available on Netflix DVD.  “Velvet Buzzsaw” (see my  February 12, 2019 review),  a dramatization of a fictionalized and futuristic artworld is a fascinating metaphor for what Yayoi Kusama experienced over half a century ago.

“The Broad”—A Vast Expansion of Modern Art

 

Murakami
Murakami

The Broad Museum, funded by billionaire philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad, is one of the hottest tickets in downtown Los Angeles. Just scan the huge stand-by crowds for tickets (which are free) on a weekday early in the afternoon. Maybe they heard about the special selfie opportunities?

The millennial crowd seems to  swipe patiently on their iPhones while eating from food trucks parked in front of the giant white building. Origami-like corrugated folds covering a vault-like interior with glass elevator and escalator, The Broad’s architecture accentuates the contemporary art inside.

Housing more than 2,000 works of art (with about 200 displayed on rotation), this stunning museum exhibits some of the most prominent holdings of postwar and contemporary art worldwide. With its innovative “veil-and-vault” concept, the 120,000-square-foot, $140-million building features two floors of gallery space to showcase iconic examples of the prime works of Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Takashi Murakami—to name a few.

Basquiat
Basquiat

I was left speechless by the special exhibit of Cindy Sherman’s body of work. Featuring her earliest black-and-white photos to images completed this year, this expansive exhibit extends over all of her major periods. We see her chameleon-like transition as she interprets different social themes using herself as the model—woman as sex object, victim, warrior, society matron. This is nothing less than spectacular. [The exhibit closes October 2 and advance reservations are highly recommended.]

Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman

The social media star at The Broad is undoubtedly “Infinity Mirrored Room”, the creation of Yayoi Kusama (better known for her polka dots). With its colorful blitz of glimmering outer-spacelike points of light, it resembles the LACMA’s “Rain Room” exhibit. [The singer Adele filmed a music video inside Kusama’s installation.]  “Infinitely Mirrored Room”  is a selfie magnet for posting on  Facebook and Instagram. The other popular selfie is the gigantic ten-foot-tall wooden sculpture “Under the Table” by Robert Therrien.

One of my hands-down favorite works is Murakami’s 82-foot-long mural “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow”, featuring demons, dragons and mythic Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian figures roiling in a tsunami. This has been one of the Broad’s biggest attractions for children and teenagers.  His “Red Blood, Black Blood”, is also a mesmerizing painting.

Murakami
Murakami

IMG_3139
Murakami

Breathtaking in beauty, The Broad rivals any contemporary art museum I have ever visited (including MOMA in San Francisco, NewYork and Los Angeles, London’s Tate Modern, Chicago’s Contemporary Museum of Art, New York’s Guggenheim and Whitney.) As the preeminent museum for featuring the ever-growing popularity of younger artists, The Broad provokes and challenges our appreciation of art in our own era. Reserve your tickets now!