Yayoi Kusama ponders the afterlife at David Zwirner gallery in New York
A little over a year since her mega-retrospectives at London’s Tate Modern and New York’s Whitney, the wonderful and elusive Yayoi Kusama is back in the spotlight with an exhibition of new works at David Zwirner’s West 19th Street gallery. Encompassing 27 new large-scale paintings, two mirrored infinity rooms and a video installation, ’I Who Have Arrived in Heaven’ is a fantastic summation of Kusama’s most recent efforts, which mostly discuss her ever-encroaching reality: death.
Speaking via a translator at the press preview, Kusama, who donned a yellow polka-dot dress from her collaboration with Louis Vuitton, mused: ’In my career, I have always had to climb uphill. I have always survived because of everyone’s kindness and kind understanding of my works, and the support of the people around me. Now as I approach death, I’m still full of big hope that we all have the power to spread love and peace, and I can do so with my work.’
Indeed Kusama’s latest paintings, which exceed six sq ft and fill two of the gallery’s three exhibition spaces, are vibrant, animated depictions of basic life forms. Seas of eyes, rows of human profiles and primitive faces swirl together in the artist’s frenetic style, with the odd injection of thick, snaking arteries carrying smaller circular shapes. Each canvas is filled with colours across the spectrum, bestowing the work with a joyous, wondrous spirit.
The notion of mortality hits home in Kusama’s newest mirrored installation. Unveiled for the first time, Infinity Mirrored Room - The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away is a cube lined with mirrored panels and a reflecting-pool floor that rebound multicoloured light from suspended LEDs. The lights flicker on and off repeatedly, evoking the dual sentiments of time standing still and going on forever.
In the gallery’s third space, another mirrored infinity room, Love is Calling, shown earlier this year at the Mori Art Museum’s 10th Anniversary, holds court with its multicoloured polka-dot tentacles filling the darkened space. Adjacent is the 2010 video projection Manhattan Suicide Addict, which sees Kusama performing a song in front of an animated slideshow of her paintings.
This baring of past hardships, like numerous suicide attempts and her current residence in a mental health institution, make Kusama’s current message of optimism all the more poignant. The epic show marks her debut at David Zwirner, whom she joined earlier this year after leaving the Gagosian Gallery.