In 2014, at the age of 85, Yayoi Kusama (b.1929) was named the world’s most popular artist. According to museum attendance data, her striking work attracted over 2 million visitors in 12 months. It is unsurprising, then, that most of her exhibitions in recent years have been large-scale and globally resonant affairs. From March, however, a more intimate retrospective is on show at Omer Tiroche Gallery, London.
Focusing solely on the artist’s small-scale pumpkin paintings, largely produced in the 1990s, it explores themes of obsession, fear, growth and disconnect. Cut at the stalk and severed from the earth, the Japanese Kabocha squash nonetheless continues to grow. Here Kusama renders their “charming and winsome form” in her iconic polka-dot patterns, with a background of infinity nets. Elsewhere, they have appeared as glowing, psychedelic sculptures and even as a mirror room installation (at the Dallas Museum of Art). Enraptured by their “generous unpretentiousness” and “solid and spiritual base”, she uses them as a motif, employing repetition as a psychologically calming device.
They are also autobiographical and a form of self-portraiture. The subject matter reflects her childhood, in which pumpkin dishes were one of the only forms of sustenance available. But their visual articulation, too, in terms of the style and structure of the composition, serves as a microcosm of her output, reflecting major concerns of her long career. This is the first time that these important pieces have all been shown in the same setting in the United Kingdom, and marks an ongoing recognition of the significance of Kusama’s thoughtful and provocative work. Appealing even at a first, quick glance, the more closely these paintings are examined, the more compelling they become.
1. Yayoi Kusama: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins. Courtesy of DMA.