A new exhibition at M+, Hong Kong’s global museum of visual culture, peels back Kusama’s complex life of art, thematically and chronologically
Photography by Nicolas Leung featuring Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin, 2022 at M+, Hong Kong. Collection of the artist
Words by Frona Akil
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has dazzled the world with her universe of polka dots, lights, and mirrors. A retrospective of the artist at Hong Kong’s M+, co-curated by Doryun Chong and Mika Yoshitake, visualises her uncompromising avant-garde vision by peeling back, layer by layer, her seven-decade-long career, thematically and chronologically.
Beyond her canvases, Kusama’s diverse mixed-media works stretch across sculpture, collage, drawing, poetry, and performance art—through which she consistently explores the themes of mental illness, repetition, obsession, creation, destruction, sex, and feminism.
Born in Matsumoto in Japan in 1929, Kusama has been creating art that largely resonates with her life and the time in which she lives. To Kusama, translating her hallucinations and obsessional images into sculptures and paintings is an act of therapy—a way to escape a family dynamic marked by abuse and to cope with her hallucinations since a child. Her works, vivid and whimsical, remind spectators the ability and power of art to heal and connect—within ourselves, within nature, and within the universe.
Photography by Nicolas Leung featuring The Moment of Regeneration at M+, Hong Kong
M+’s Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now exhibition surveys the artist’s seven-decade long creative outpouring through the six major themes: Infinity, Accumulation, Radical Connectivity, Biocosmic, Death, and Force of Life.
Featuring more than 200 works by Kusama, works on view include Infinity Nets, where tiny loops—or dots—cover giant canvases with a net-like pattern, signifying the interchanging relationship of the boundless universe and our position within it. Others, like Untitled (Chair), from which protruding phallic forms spring, is a dizzying representation of Accumulation dominated by elements like repetition and replication.
Marking a significant era in Kusama’s career, Radical Connectivity reflects her provocative staged Happenings where she dotted nude performers in the 1960s and 70s in New York. The works in Biocosmic represent a pivotal shift in Kusama’s career, interweaving memories from her childhood growing up in a nursery, her creative roots, and her mystical understanding and philosophy of the natural world that she later developed. Her trademark polka dots, here, symbolises rebirth—both of the universe and our connections to the cosmo.
Photography by Nicolas Leung featuring Dots Obsession – Aspiring to Heaven’s Love, 2022 at M+, Hong Kong
The last two sections counteract one another. Death expresses Kusama’s observation of the cycles of life, death, and regeneration in nature through spiritual healing, while the gallery walls in Force of Life are lined with colourful canvases covered with faces, flowers, and eyes, sending messages of love and hope.
In addition to retracing the roots of her practice, the exhibition features three new works: Death of Nerves casted from ceiling to the basement in the M+ building; Dots Obsession—Aspiring to Heaven’s Love that perpetuates Kusama’s mirror and polka dot vision; and the allegorical Pumpkin that represents cheerful episodes from her childhood memory.
Looking deep into the complexity of Yayoi Kusama’s creative journey, the kaleidoscopic retrospective serves as a witness to the transformative phases of the eccentric ninety-year-old through her art, and her philosophy of life—a constant process of connecting and healing.
Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now runs until 14 May 2023 at M+ in Hong Kong. For more information, visit mplus.org.hk