Kusama connects with the Little Red Dot

Yayoi Kusama. Infinity Mirrored Room, Gleaming Lights Of The Souls, 2008

When Yayoi Kusama’s Life is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibition opens in Singapore on June 9, 2017, it will not be the first time Singaporeans have gone dotty over her celebrated works of spotted art and experiential spaces.

Dots Obsession was the Japanese artist’s first “obliteration room” in Singapore, installed in September 2005. Brought in by curators from Ota Fine Art in Tokyo for the ARTSingapore contemporary art fair, a white cube space was covered with colourful dots and several inflatables bobbed about, delighting visitors with the visually attractive interactive artwork and its dizzying effects.

The installation was part of a worldwide outpouring of support for Kusama’s art that began in 2004. That year, her solo exhibition KUSAMATRIX at Mori Museum, Tokyo drew more than half a million visitors, while a solo at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo opened in the same year, before travelling around Japan in 2005, including museums in Kyoto and Hiroshima.

The following year, Kusama made her mark on Singapore’s Orchard Road at the 2006 Singapore Biennale, dressing the tree-lined boulevard with Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees. By this time, the connection between the artist’s popular dot motif and Singapore’s colloquial name, the Little Red Dot, was hard to miss.

Her paintings and prints made increasing appearances at major art fairs and galleries in Singapore, and as her work gained popularity with the city’s art lovers, Let’s Go to a Paradise of Glorious Tulips, a major commission of Kusama’s sculpture at the roof garden of the Orchard Central retail mall, was realised in 2009.

In 2012, the Louis Vuitton - Yayoi Kusama Concept store opened in Singapore, debuting her Infinitely Kusama fashion wear for Louis Vuitton. In what was certainly a special year for Kusuma followers, two exhibitions were held at galleries in Singapore, while a major retrospective ran at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Born in 1929 in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, Kusama had a troubled childhood in an unhappy family situation. She began to paint using polka dots and nets as motifs around age 10, making fantastic paintings in watercolours, pastels and oils.

Art has always been the celebrated artist’s survival system, a place for the person to work out anxiety and heal. In 1957 she left home for New York, living and working there as an artist until 1973. During this time she established her soft sculptures, apart from her large paintings, work with mirrors and lights, and her involvement and staging of happenings including body painting, fashion shows and anti-war protests. While she exhibited her work in galleries internationally, she only experienced success in Japan much later.

In 2017, the momentum that Kusama’s art has generated continues unabated. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden opened an exhibition of Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors, which will travel to major museums in North America, and Life is the Heart of a Rainbow will open at the National Gallery Singapore in June, in collaboration with Australia’s Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art.

The Singapore exhibition, held at the Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery, presents a major survey of Kusama’s life’s work, beginning with works from the 1950s till today, including her Infinity Mirrors, Nets and Pumpkin works, and even works that have never before been exhibited. With this show, Singapore can embrace the dotted craze again.