Yayoi Kusama is best know for her spots. Her collaboration with Louis Vuitton a couple of years ago was all about spots. But they’re not the only major theme in her work – another one is pumpkins, three of which have now arrived for a stay at Victoria Miro in Shoreditch. They’re rather different from the characteristic child’s-drawing bright colours of her other work. They’re dark and handsome and bronze.
The Tate Modern called Kusama ‘Japan’s most prominent contemporary artist’ and her reputation has grown over here in recent years with a series of exhibitions, many of which I’ve covered on this blog (though not the Tate exhibition itself, sadly, which was on just before I started blogging).
Kusama has suffered from disturbing hallucinations all her life, and has lived in a mental hospital in Japan, by her own request, since 1977. Before that she was part of the avant-garde art scene in New York in the sixties, exhibited alongside Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg and experimented with her first room-sized installations before turning to performance art, painting spots on naked models to protest against the Vietnam War.
She began drawing pumpkins as far back as 1948, but her interest in them grew after her return to Japan from New York in the 1970’s. She’s depicted them in a wide variety of media, including painting, prints, sculpture, installation, environmental works, and in all sizes from tiny to monumental. In 1994 her best-known pumpkin sculpture, a large yellow and black pumpkin, was given a permanent home at the Benesse Art Site in Naoshima, an island in Japan’s inland sea dedicated to displaying art within nature.
Kusama has described her images of pumpkins as a kind of self-portrait. She praises the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness. The works at Victoria Miro reflect this; the three pumpkins are all plump and glossy and tactile. They have an air of ripe contentment about them.
They are decorated with Kusama’s signature spots – not surprisingly, as she cites the knobbly patterning of their skins as inspiration for the spots in her other work.
They range in size from slightly taller than the average adult to child-sized. You can walk around and between them, or just sit and contemplate.
It’s worth a trip to Victoria Miro to see them, in their peaceful setting in the garden against a backdrop of another, permanent, Kusama work of silver balls floating in a peaceful small lake. The gallery is on Wharf Road, N1. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday 10.00 am to 6.00 pm and the pumpkins will be in residence until 19th December.
PS If you want to see some great photos of the Kusama pumpkin in Regent’s Park, take a look at Distant Drumlin’s Pumpkins and Dinosaurs.