[Article of Interest] Vivid Hallucinations From a Fragile Life
Yayoi Kusama at Whitney Museum of American Art
As any account of that career will tell you, including those Ms. Kusama gives, crisis mode was the source of her art. She was born in the city of Matsumoto, a few hundred miles northwest of Tokyo, to an affluent family that owned a large plant nursery and seed farm. Her father, by her account, was distant, cool and a serial philanderer; her mother, embittered by marriage, was perversely abusive.
For whatever reason, she had hallucinations from a young age. She claimed that flowers spoke to her; that fabric patterns came to life, multiplied endlessly and threatened to engulf and expunge her. These neurotic fears were compounded by the grueling realities of World War II, when she was in her teens and had begun drawing and painting with ferocious concentration, clinging to art as a lifeline.
Her grip on it was more than firm: it was unrelenting and propulsive. With a boldness unusual in a young woman of her day, she left home, under a cloud of disapproval, for art school in Kyoto. There she customized academic styles to her own subversive ends. In the show’s earliest painting, “Lingering Dream” from 1949, she translates the traditional theme of a floral still life into a nightmare of withered limbs and vaginas dentata set in a blasted landscape.