Arts / Galleries

The Pumpkin Lady

A Daring, Surreal Artist Gives MFAH a Texas Coup:

BY Catherine Casey // 06.10.16

Yayoi Kusama and her whimsical genius have made their way back to Texas. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston welcomes Kusama: At the End of the Universe — the first time the artist’s work has been exhibited in the Lone Star State since a 1997 installation at the Rice University Gallery.

Here’s the scene: As you enter the museum, a massive pumpkin covered in black dots welcomes you. Kusama, who hails from Japan, began her training with the traditional, highly disciplined Nihonga style of painting. As a student, she often painted the kobacha, a pumpkin-like squash; she would spend weeks contemplating and studying the pumpkin before even bringing a brush to paper. “Enchanted by their charming and winsome form,” she said, she has made the gourd a dominant theme.

The artist at rest (Courtesy Whitney.org)
The artist at rest (Courtesy Whitney.org)

Kusama moved to New York in 1957, and quickly became a leader in the avant-garde movement. She linked herself with contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Frank Stella (you can see works of theirs at MFAH as well). She consistently pushed limits as an artist, leaving a trail of dots in her path.

Kusama, who is now 87, resides in Tokyo and is still painting and creating.

The exhibit celebrates MFAH’s acquisition of Kusama’s infinity room Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. Kusama transports you to another universe as you enter this intimate room, surrounded by fluttering lights that resemble twinkling lanterns. The lights and the mirrored walls create an illusion of endless space.

Yayoi Kusama, Love Is Calling, 2013, at MFAH
Yayoi Kusama, “Love Is Calling,” 2013, at MFAH

Another one of Kusama’s infinity room environments – Love is Calling – is also a part of the interactive exhibit. Soft, tentacle-like sculptures line the floor and ceiling; each appendage, covered with the artist’s signature block dots, glows in an array of bright colors. Kusama’s meditative voice soothes as she recites an original love poem in Japanese, recorded, of course.

Four paintings from Kusama’s latest series — My Eternal Soul — line the walls surrounding the rooms. This series differs from her past work; in contrast to monochromatic color schemes, these canvases feature a wide range of bright colors. The images of dots and faces reflect on themes of memory, self and mortality.

Want your own piece of Kusama? Marc Jacobs, inspired by Kusama’s “endless energy” and “ability to create,” collaborated with the artist to create a collection for Louis Vuitton in 2012. The playful collection features bags, clothes, shoes and accessories, all covered with Kusama’s trademark dots.

“Kusama: At the End of the Universe,” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, June 12 – September 18, mfah.org.

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