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Yayoi Kusama

This video brought to you by Tate.org.uk

The nine decades of Yayoi Kusama's life have taken her from rural Japan to the New York art scene to contemporary Tokyo, in a career in which she has continuously innovated and re-invented her style. Learn more about how the artist strove to establish herself both in and beyond Japan, and how she harnessed those struggles to forge a remarkable artistic legacy.
Created by Tate.

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Video transcript

Making art was something that she seems to have done in opposition to her family but she also was innately talented. You look at the early drawings and they are completely exquisite. The challenges to become an accomplished artist in a Japanese provincial milieu must have driven this notion that, at some point, she would have to escape. She was on a train to stardom, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She had a suitcase full of drawings and she set about selling herself. When she first came to New York, it was a man's world. The art world was aggressively male. It was a cut-throat period I think it was very difficult to be a woman artist. She was taking away your ability to focus breaking all boundaries of space and the exhibitions that I had, in particular the 'Peepshow' that did the job. It was an octagonal room, it was painted black and there were openings where you could stick your head in. The ceiling of it set up a series of lights. The rhythm of that machine was, brrrrr, faster and faster. Up till Kusama, there were many artists from the Renaissance on, who were involved with perspective and infinity but it was all a fake because you knew, you were the viewer you were always aware that you were the master. That it was a painting that was encompassed by a frame and the artist was playing with space but it wasn’t enveloping you. To go back to Tokyo and to start from scratch again for Kusama was quite extraordinary because she wasn’t known there and she hadn't been recognised. Clearly, the strains and stresses of life, the memories, forced her to withdraw. But what she's always done, she has always managed that process incredibly well. Kusama is now living in a mental institution but, by day, she occupies across the street in a busy suburban neighbourhood of Tokyo a very well-appointed studio facility where she has a team of assistants. She has a space for painting, she has a space for a library, her archive and every morning she gets there and she's the consummate professional and she works from nine till six. I think there's a sort of managing madness about Kusama, which is so utterly sane which is really interesting. She's used her trauma, she's used these experiences in her past she's been able to harness experiences that might drive other people insane to enormously productive ends. She's an extraordinary person in that way.