From Zero to Infinity: Yayoi Kusama in Context: Orgiastic Color, Fuzzy Haze, and Naked Bodies

Local Arts Reviews


From Zero to Infinity: Yayoi Kusama in Context: Orgiastic Color, Fuzzy Haze, and Naked Bodies

Blanton Museum of Art,

through August 13

The Blanton's new exhibition of work by Yayoi Kusama proves there was an egg before the chicken. We've all seen Andy's silkscreened Campbell's soup cans, as well as Oldenburg's melted sculptures. But do you know about Yayoi Kusama? The Japanese artist who was Pop before the Kings of Pop? Well, you should.

Combining aspects of surrealism and abstract expressionism with elements from minimalism and Pop Art, Kusama was a performance artist known for pasta-encrusted suitcases, phallused furniture, and her signature dot, which she painted and stuck on everything from horses to herself. She knew anyone who was anyone in the art world, spending the 1960s engaged in artistic experiments then returning to Japan in 1973 to incarcerate herself in a mental institution.

"From Zero to Infinity" features eight of her paintings (most demonstrating her jones for repetition and her deep interest in relationships among people, society, and nature), as well as a video presentation (including Kusama's Self-Obliteration, a 23-minute film which is filled to the brim with orgiastic color, fuzzy haze, and naked bodies. Think Burroughs.)

The paintings you see first when coming into the exhibit are mostly black with some lurking color: Inward Vision No. 1 features a glowing purple-pink rattlesnake-like embryonic form while An Island (6) is a pie crust of blue, green, and pink. If they feel like hallucinations, it's no wonder; after her participation in the New York art scene, in both "happenings" and brash performance art, depression took over Kusama's life and she returned to Japan to seek treatment.

The next pieces in "From Zero to Infinity" are from her peers, a group of artists who worked with the avant-garde zero movement (which worked to bridge the gap between art and technology). Two steps further into the exhibit and the egg cracks wide open. Roy Lichtenstein checks in with Cathedral 4, a print with his signature comics-art dots and the outline of a cathedral behind. Donald Judd is present with Untitled, a series of three simple-lined prints that resemble optical illusions. Bringing up the rear are Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans I, Onion Soup and Claes Oldenburg's Pile of Erasers.

The amount of visual stimulation (and information) that "From Zero to Infinity" presents is freakin' amazing. The installation is clean and breathes well. Before I knew it, I'd spent almost two hours wandering around the gallery at the Blanton Museum of Art.

In 1994, Peter Gabriel released "Lovetown," a video with visuals inspired by Kusama's self-labeled "psychosomatic art" with its virus-like replication, nets, and intricate patterns. In the song, Gabriel asks, "Whose lonely lips will find these hidden scars? Who's seen the kisses left in dim-lit bars?" These lyrics haunted me as I walked through the exhibit. And I know I never ever want to visit Lovetown. But "From Zero to Infinity" is another story.

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