Hong Kong seems like it’s been taken over by Yayoi Kusama and her psychedelic, polka-dotted style. It’s all thanks to Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now , the newly opened art exhibition at M+ in the West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong, which charts the artist’s over-seven-decade career. The large-scale retrospective, which marks the museum for visual culture’s first anniversary, will top lists of the best things to do in Hong Kong until it wraps in May 2023.
With more than 200 pieces spanning painting, drawing, sculpture and installation, the show is the largest exhibition of Kusama’s artworks to date in Asia outside her home country of Japan – and includes one large-scale installation commissioned by M+. Cathay Pacific Cargo proudly helped to make the show possible, safely delivering from Japan 32 of the key pieces of the exhibition.
“It is difficult to think of a more significant contemporary artist.” says Doryun Chong, Deputy Director, Curatorial and Chief Curator at M+. “Given Kusama’s longevity, visibility, reputation and the significance of her practice, she has always been on top of M+’s list to receive this spotlight.”
Hailed as a visionary by critics, Kusama is one of the most successful female artists of all time, and a leading figure in contemporary art. Her introspective style transforms her own struggles with mental health, trauma and obsession into vibrant artwork: from the drawings she made as a teenager in World War II to the large, dotted pumpkins and mirrored “Infinity Rooms”. Kusama explores topics that have fascinated her throughout her life, including the profundity of existence, the self and infinity, and the concept of regeneration.
Now That You Died, 1975. Ink, pastel, and collage on paper, 54.8×39.7cm
Credit: Setagaya Art Museum © Yayoi Kusama
Pound of Repose, 2014. Acrylic on canvas, 194×194cm
Credit: Collection of the artist, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner © Yayoi Kusama
“We examine the core aesthetics and philosophies of Kusama’s work, tracing her career in six thematic sections of the exhibition: Infinity, Accumulation, Radical Connectivity, Biocosmic, Death, and Force of Life.” says Chong. He notes that exhibiting on this scale in China has long been a goal of Kusama’s, as Chinese poetry is a strong influence in her work and writing. “To present her works at M+, a new, world-class institution, is the ideal way to fulfil her long-time goal.”
The show may offer plenty opportunities for an Instagram post or two, but the curatorial team hopes that visitors will also learn more about this prolific yet fiercely private artist, the magnitude of her achievements and the legacy of her art. “We want to tell the story of how an Asian woman, alone in the world with such irrepressible spirit, could push through all social, cultural, and personal obstacles to build an incredible body of work and legacy.” says Chong.
Installation view of Death of Nerves (2022) at Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, 2022.
Credit: Lok Cheng, M+, Hong Kong
This large-scale artwork commissioned by M+ is a colourful continuation of Kusama’s sombre grey-and-black 1976 installation, Death of a Nerve. The web-like network of dot-embellished fabric lines references Kusama’s signature densely dotted “infinity net” paintings, and connects to her longstanding themes of infinity and death.
Installation view of Pumpkin (2022) at Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, 2022
Credit: Lok Cheng M+, Hong Kong
The bulging, dotted contours of Kusama’s large pumpkin sculptures have been a familiar motif throughout the artist’s life, and can be traced back to her childhood drawings of the squashes that grew at her family’s plant nursery. This piece encompasses two new sculptures housed in M+’s Main Hall.
Dots Obsession at Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now
A mind-bending roomful of polka dots, mirrors and balloons covered with white dots evokes the illusion of infinite space and creates an immersive and disorientating experience. Social media cannot do justice to it – although it hasn’t stopped Hong Kong’s Instagrammers from trying.
PORTRAIT, 2015. Acrylic on canvas, 145.5×112cm
Credit: Collection of Amoli Foundation Ltd. © Yayoi Kusama
Kusama herself is one of the most intriguing subjects of her art, and her self-portraits offer insights to her psychological and emotional states. In a dedicated space for her self-portraits hangs this 2015 painting, which serves as a visual echo of her pumpkin sculptures and depicts a figure becoming one with their environment, an experience she terms “self-obliteration”.
Pacific Ocean, 1960. Oil on canvas, 183×183cm
Credit: Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. © Yayoi Kusama
The concept of infinity has long fascinated Kusama, and has become central to her work. Her early technique involved applying countless dots individually, which take on a collective shape and movement of their own when viewed as a whole. This oil-on-canvas painting was inspired by the young artist gazing down on the ocean from her 1957 flight from Japan to the US, as she sought to make a name for herself in New York.
Hero image: Installation view of Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, 2022. Lok Cheng for M+, Hong Kong