Yayoi Kusama Retrospective in Berlin

The Gropius Bau in Berlin is hosting Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective (from April 23, 2021 until Aug. 15, 2021) a comprehensive exhibition spread over 3000 m² that features eighty years worth of art work, fashion, installations, and documentary materials produced by the prolific and renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

Born in Matsumoto, in the Japanese Alps, in 1929, Kusama studied painting in Kyoto, and had her first solo exhibition in her hometown in 1952. After moving to the US in the late-1950s, in part thanks to her correspondence with the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, Kusama started exhibiting at international exhibitions, including in Amsterdam, Bern, The Hague, Essen, Milan, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Turin and Venice. This chronological retrospective includes eight reconstructions of Kusama’s signature exhibitions from 1952 to 1983.

Curator and Director of the Gropius Bau, Stephanie Rosenthal, collaborated with Kusama and her studio in Tokyo, drawing extensively on Kusama’s personal archive to select about 300 works. The new installation A Bouquet of Love I saw in the Universe (2021) consisting of a sea of large-scale inflatable tentacles was created specifically for the vast historic atrium of the Gropius Bau.

In the late 1950s, Yayoi Kusama began making her Infinity Net paintings that use a new visual language to express the idea of endlessness through delicate repetitive semi-circular brushstrokes in a lace-like pattern that cover the entire canvas. The theme of infinity has been foundational for Kusama’s work.

In the 1960s, with the intention of working outside of the art market and nurturing her interest in clothing, Yayoi Kusama began designing fashion. Her clothing was closely tied to her artistic work and was informed by the period’s cultural influences, including Pop Art and the hippie movement. The large photograph in this room shows her surrounded by models in her New York fashion institute. The exhibition also features many of her drawings from personal notebooks that include fashion sketches.

Kusama made use of found clothing as early as 1962, covering shirts, coats and handbags with macaroni and spraying them gold or silver. Professionalizing her fashion studio by the mid-1960s, she aimed to expand internationally. In 1968, Kusama established Kusama Fashion Company Ltd, and began selling avantgarde fashion in the “Kusama Corner” at Bloomingdales. By 1969, her designs were sold at four hundred stores throughout New York, including Alexander’s and Bloomingdale’s.

Kusama’s clothes connected to the personal, social and political liberation enacted in her Happenings. She cut polka-dot-shaped holes into her See Through Dresses and used translucent materials to accentuate nakedness. In line with her Accumulations sculptures, she developed a series of fabric phalli dresses. Untitled (Dress) (c. 1968) is an iconic example: a tunic dress sprayed pink with monochrome fabric phalli. Kusama regularly wore this to her own Happenings.

Designing her Orgy Dress in 1968, the piece allowed several people to wear one dress. Machine-sewn in brightly coloured dotted or floral patterns, the unisex piece could be worn by two to 25 people. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were even photographed together in one.

The dresses shown in the exhibition are made of 100% cotton fabric, designed in 2002, and are from Kusama’s private collection. The yellow fabric pattern is similar to the one Kusama used in her yellow pumpkins, and there is a large photograph of the artist wearing one of her own designs.

In 2011, Kusama created artwork for six limited-edition lip-glosses from Lancôme.

In 2011, she also worked with Marc Jacobs (who visited her studio in Japan in 2006) on a line of Louis Vuitton products, including leather goods, ready-to-wear, accessories, shoes, watches, and jewelry. The products became available in 2012 at a SoHo pop-up shop, which was decorated with Kusama’s trademark tentacle-like protrusions and polka-dots. Eventually, six other pop-up shops were opened around the world.

The exhibition in Berlin is very impressive and well curated. The spacious exhibition rooms at the Gropius Bau are ideal for such a large and comprehensive display of diverse and multi-disciplinary art works. But sadly, due to COVID restrictions, the tickets are sold out for the rest of the month, which the website does not make clear and may be a huge disappointment to so many visitors and locals still trying to buy tickets.

“I am delighted that my retrospective exhibition will be held at the wonderful Gropius Bau. This is an exhibition that I will remember for the rest of my life. I thank you with all my heart, love and hope.” (Yayoi Kusama, 2021)

All photos by K. Sark

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