I’ve blogged about Yayoi Kusama’s remarkable paintings and sculptures several times before so I reckoned I knew what to expect – exuberant colours, psychedelic spots and giant pop-art flower sculptures. But her latest show at the Victoria Miro Gallery is very different – it’s completely monochrome and the focus is not spots but nets.
Kusama is probably the best-known living Japanese artist, with more major museum exhibitions to her credit than you could shake a stick at. Born in Matsumoto City, she made her name as an abstract expressionist in fifties New York and became a key member of the pop art movement alongside Andy Warhol. In the early seventies she moved back to Japan and checked into a mental institution where she has lived ever since. Instantly recognisable by her short stature and bright red hair, she’s one of the few artists who can move with assurance from high art to commercial collaboration with the likes of Louis Vuitton.
Kusama has actually been been painting monochrome nets for a very long time. Her first White Infinity works were produced in the nineteen fifties, painted obsessively for hours without stops for rest or sleep. They depict one of the hallucinations which have haunted her all her life – that everything around her seems to be covered by a net with the reality beneath visible only as dots.
These new works seem like bland monochromes from a distance,but the closer you get the more they resolve themselves into complex surfaces, the grey or black underlay covered with an intricate nets made up of thickly textured gloops of white paint.
Some of them have a powerful three-dimensional quality, like waves or roses.
The most fascinating piece in the exhibition is not a painting but an installation. Titled Solitude of the Earth, it consists of a table and two chairs with a cupboard behind containing various trappings of domesticity and femininity. The whole thing is covered in white netting.
It has overtones of Miss Havisham in her wedding dress with her uneaten wedding cake on the table, except that Kusama’s work is quite free of dust, or any suggestion of the passage of time. It seems both newly minted and completely static.
It is this work, more than the paintings, that give a sensation of what it is like to have to engage with reality through the barrier of a net that covers everything, so that we get a faint idea of what it is like to be Yayoi Kusama.
The exhibition is the inaugural show at the new Victoria Miro Gallery just down the road from Hanover Square (and handy for tea at John Lewis afterwards, as Yannick and I can attest). It’s the perfect space for showing Kusama’s work, right down to the white wall that slides across the door automatically when you come in, closing you off from the outside world.
The exhibition is free and continues until 9 November. The Gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am to 6pm.