Review: Kusama: Infinity

This documentary was full of surprises for me. I’ve been an art lover for as long as I can remember, but somehow missed knowing one of the most critically acclaimed artists of our time. Her name is Yayoi Kusama, and this film about her is eye-opening, even if you’ve seen her work in museums (as I apparently had without remembering her name.) Now in her late 80s and still working, her installations and retrospectives regularly sell out at top museums and galleries around the world. But her journey to acceptance was anything but easy. Hers is a story of overcoming personal trauma by turning it into a life’s work and embracing her unstoppable creative genius. It’s well worth seeing.

She was a feminist from the get go, a trail-blazer and a boundary breaker. In 1958, she left Japan and moved to New York at the urging of Georgia O’Keeffe. Her work was fresh and unlike anything that was being done at the time. And several of the leading male artists of the Pop Art movement became famous after literally stealing her ideas.(Warhol, Oldenburg, Samaras, I’m talking to you!) Meanwhile she struggled to break into the New York art world. Not only was she female, but she was Japanese. But nothing could stop her from painting, and sculpting, and pushing the boundaries. There were people who appreciated her work, but the galleries were still a white men’s domain. So she used her art to protest the Viet Nam war and was one of the original performance artists staging “happenings” frequently with naked performers. But while she was making a name for herself, her art was not making her any money. And it took its toll. She twice attempted suicide, and even now lives in a mental hospital in easy walking distance of her studio back in Japan.

Kusama: Infinity is a wonderful way to contextualize the woman and her art. Her mirrored room installations are gorgeous, but her reasons for making them and all the other art she’s turned out over the past 60 years gives you another level of appreciation for them. This should be seen on a big screen if possible because the work is so beautifully visual. I highly recommend this for all art lovers, even if you’ve seen her work in person.

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