At Guidelines Advertising, we find inspiration for the creative work we do from a variety of sources across the arts and business worlds. When we first saw the bold aesthetic of Yayoi Kusama in her wildly popular AGO exhibit, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, we had to know more about the amazing creative mind behind these remarkable artistic accomplishments. Whether you were one of the lucky few who secured tickets to see the exhibit, or you’re experiencing it vicariously through its massive social media following, every Torontonian should know what an honour it is to have the exhibit at the AGO. On display for a limited time only from March 3rd to May 27th, the AGO is the only Canadian stop for the exhibition, and one of only six North American venues in total. While Kusama’s art sells out venues on its own, knowing a bit about her role in shaping both the contemporary and feminist art narratives will make her work just that much more captivating and those tickets you worked so hard to get mean so much more.
Born in 1929 in Matsumoto Japan, Kusama always had an interest in the arts. When she was 10, she began experiencing visual hallucinations of dense fields of dots, a pattern that she incorporated into her art throughout her career, and which she calls “self-obliteration.” Although she always enjoyed crafting and sketching, it wasn’t until she was working in a factory sewing military parachutes during WW1 did Kusama begin truly valuing the concept of personal and creative freedom. In 1948, Kusama began studying art in Kyoto. Despite initially studying nihonga, the traditional Japanese style of painting, she quickly developed a passion for the avant-garde and American abstract impressionism styles, and began artistically experimenting with the perception of natural forms.
After living in both France and Tokyo, Kusama arrived in the United States in 1957. While living in Manhattan, Kusama established herself as a follower of the avant-garde movement and associated with well-known artistic leaders like Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Warhol. Although she created diverse instillations, sculptures, paintings, and performance-based art, she was most notable for her art series consisting of objects covered with white, hand-sewn tuber protrusions, as exemplified by her first Infinity Mirror Rooms – Phalli’s Field (1965). Phalli’s Field is also the first example of Kusama using mirrors to transform her three-dimensional work into a completely immersive experience. Despite producing work at a quick pace, Kusama was not financially successful. In fact, Georgia O’Keefe often asked her personal art dealer to purchase Kusama’s work in order to supplement her funds.
In 1973 Kusama returned to Japan where she was, for a short time, an art dealer, but always an artist and a writer of novels, short stories, and poetry. Although she fell into relative obscurity in the American art scene following her return to Japan, Kusama was the first woman to have a solo presentation at the Japanese Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, one of the most respected cultural organizations in the world. It was at this time where Kusama’s work gained a massive resurgence in popularity and a worldwide following. Since then, Kusama has been a continuous source of creative inspiration in and beyond the art world, named one of the most influential people of 2016 by Time Magazine, and featured in galleries and public spaces worldwide. The traveling exhibit, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, was organized in 2017 to be a 50-year retrospective of her career. In addition to her kaleidoscopic, fully immersive Infinity Mirror Rooms, the exhibit also features her most iconic artwork, intimate sketches, rare archival material, slideshows of her early performances, and video footage of Kusama being interviewed for the exhibit.