Quick Review 2: Yayoi Kusama at Whitney

Another in my series of quick reviews of things I had long ago planned to review in much more detail.

Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective at Whitney was large, and so I had tons to say. The exhibition was broken into galleries, arranged chronologically and by medium. Here are some quick thoughts, based on the order of those sections.

1) The early paintings and drawings are EXQUISITE.

Yayoi Kusama, Phosphoresce in the Daytime, c. 1950. Ink and pastel on paper

2) The Infinity Net paintings were TERRIBLY LIT. Partitioned off into a part of the gallery that contained one of Marcel Breuer’s famous windows, they were illuminated with a strange mix of natural and halogen light. Instead of looking sublimely white-on-white, you got yellow-orange nets on blue-grey grounds.

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Net paintings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, showing the Marcel Breuer window

3) A room of documentation, letters, posters, and her fashion work was fascinating; I spent a long time in there, and could have spent more. Some highlights: completely out-of-the-blue, she wrote a letter to Georgia O’Keeffe (!!!), asking her advice about how to break into the New York art world; and O’Keeffe responded (!!!) in incredible handwriting, saying that as she was off in New Mexico she was no longer in touch with the New York scene anymore, but she did offer to put Kusama in touch with her few remaining contacts. Also documented, in photos, letters and artworks, was Kusama’s relationship (romantic, but perhaps not sexual?) with Joseph Cornell (!!!!!!!!!), many years her senior, who quite exoticized her.

4) Her phallic Accumulation sculptures were represented by a handful of mostly small objects, and just a few pieces of furniture, on a plinth that ran along two walls of a large gallery. This was not really successful at conveying what it is like to be in an Accumulation room, with every object, floor and wall completely covered–an experience I would have liked to see represented as an important part of her oeuvre. I understand the reasons creating this experience would have been difficult, but they could have better simulated it: more works, closer together or piled on each other, assembled in a smaller space.

An installation of Kusama’s Accumulation sculptures

5) The late works were bright and wonderful. The final room is hung salon style, floor to ceiling, with large (5-6 feet each?) square paintings. Some of the symbols of her very early paintings and drawings return, but writ large and cartoonish. There are so many details to appreciate, but the installation keeps the viewer looking at the whole, comparing paintings to each other, and just marveling at the whole effect. This room was sort of full of joy; not without the anxieties so present in her other work, but perhaps achieving a kind of late-in-late acceptance, and dare I say happiness.

Installation of Kusama paintings from 2009-2011

3 thoughts on “Quick Review 2: Yayoi Kusama at Whitney

  1. Pingback: Confessions of a Failed Blogger | SmARTy ART Chick

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