14 marzo 2023
by Guendalina Dainelli

Kusama, Infinite Present

Yayoi Kusama, Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Whitney Museum of American Art. Credits Jason Schmidt
Yayoi Kusama, Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Whitney Museum of American Art. Credits Jason Schmidt

It took two years of meetings and phone calls, but finally, Yayoi Kusama's ‘Fireflies on the Water,’ one of her most iconic Infinity Mirror Rooms from the Whitney Museum of American Art collection in New York, will be in Bergamo this fall for the exhibition ‘Infinite Present.’ 13 years have passed since her works were last exhibited at Milan’s PAC. At over ninety years old, the Japanese artist will be back in Italy with an exhibit, from November 17, 2023, to January 14, 2024, at Palazzo della Ragione in Bergamo, on occasion of Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023.

At the time when Kusama's giant and colorful pumpkins created in collaboration with Luis Vuitton appear in Milan’s Piazza San Babila, curator Stefano Raimondi, founder and director of The Blank Contemporary Art, expresses his enthusiasm: “It took a lot of work to deal with the Whitney Museum of American Art, undoubtedly one of the most important in the world.

But we were really motivated by Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023 and the events related to Covid. Kusama's work matches the message of this year dedicated to culture, which includes the themes of resilience, healing, rebirth, and light.”

The message of Kusama's work matches the idea behind this year of culture, which coincides with the themes of resilience, healing, rebirth, light

So then, what should we expect from Kusama? An enchanted, dreamlike atmosphere of silence and meditation. At the center of the exhibition, curated by Maria Marzia Minelli, there will be a room-sized installation meant to be seen by only one person at a time, in solitude, a dark environment covered with mirrors on all sides.

At the center of the hall, there is a pool of water, conveying a sense of stillness, out of which emerges a pier-like viewing platform, while 150 small lights hang from the ceiling looking like the fireflies of the title. These elements create an effect of direct and reflected light emanating both from the mirrors and the water surface. It is a place of soothing and cathartic power.

This is a big hit for Bergamo. Though not everybody may know her name, Kusama is perhaps the most popular artist in the world. According to a survey by The Art Newspaper magazine, over 5 million people have lined up to see her works in 5 years.

She is a rock star of the art world, but her work cannot be separated for her mental health. She suffers from hallucinations and has been living in a Tokyo psychiatric institute of her own free will since 1977. In any case, this has not prevented her from renting an atelier in front of the hospital, where she goes every day to paint, write, and work, including on global advertising campaigns and prestigious collaborations with the biggest names in fashion.

In recent months, Kusama has appeared on mega billboards with 3D animation, in the guise of a statue or giant inflatable puppets, on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, outside the Harrods department store in London, and in the Shinjuku business district in Tokyo. There is also a Kusama robot in the windows of Louis Vuitton stores in New York

A victim of hallucinations, the artist still voluntarily lives in a mental asylum in Tokyo, which has been his home since 1977

Is she getting overly commercial? Some critics wonder to what extent she may have become the victim of a system that distorts her art. At any rate, Raimondi doesn't think so: “These collaborations have brought her poetical sensibility to the whole world, including people who didn't know her. Art and society have always coexisted, and rightly so, especially with artists that use their individual language to communicate with society at large. If the social system includes commercialism, I don't see anything wrong with it, the myth of the artist who must be poor to express his best should be dispelled as soon as possible. From Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons, numerous artists have partnered with businesses and companies, broadening the communicative power of their works.” Bright colors and shapes repeat ad infinitum, an obsession with nets and polka dots has lasted for half a century, spreading over clothes, canvases, and surfaces of all kinds.

Kusama was born in 1929 from a wealthy family in Matsumoto, Japan, the youngest of four children. Her mother strenuously hindered her art, confiscating her inks and canvases, which she blamed as the cause of her strangeness. It is told that she arrived in New York in 1958, at the age of 27, with just a little money, 60 silk kimonos and some drawings. Her plan was to survive by selling either. She eventually came to express crucial messages for our times.

“Kusama embodies two major contemporary themes,” Raimondi says, “the role of women, not only in the arts, and the theme of immigration. It’s hard to imagine what it was like for a Japanese woman to go and live alone in New York and then become part of a mainly male art world, which nowadays we would call sexist.”

What is the secret of her great success? Raimondi points to her sincere poetical sensibility and spontaneity that can affect anyone. #YayoiKusama has over one million and 300 thousand results on Instagram. The Internet and social media have paved the way for her popularity. She is one of the artists who best understand the codes of modernity, while the dots she relentlessly repeats are the most basic elements of the artistic process.

Infinite Present will be completely accessible to the hearing challenged thanks to guided tours using sign language. Raimondi adds that, “while we are still setting things up, we would like to include the wonderful poetic text she wrote during the pandemic, a hymn to solidarity and resilience.”

Though it glistens just out of reach, I continue to pray for hope to shine through
Its glimmer lighting our way
This long awaited great cosmic glow

Now that we find ourselves on the dark side of the world
The gods will be there to strengthen the hope we have spread throughout the universe

For those left behind, each person's story and that of their loved ones
It is time to seek a hymn of love for our souls
In the midst of this historic menace, a brief burst of light points to the future
Let us joyfully sing this song of a splendid future
Let's go

Embraced in deep love and the efforts of people all over the world
Now is the time to overcome, to bring peace
We gathered for love and I hope to fulfil that desire
The time has come to fight and overcome our unhappiness

To COVID-19 that stands in our way
I say Disappear from this earth
We shall fight
We shall fight this terrible monster

Now is the time for people all over the world to stand up
My deep gratitude goes to all those who are already fighting.

Revolutionist of the world by the Art

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