The Reading List: Yayoi Kusama

When it comes to beautiful books, 2012 has been the year of Vogue and the year of Yayoi Kusama.  Both have long, complex histories, illustrious collaborators, stretches of pure creativity and artistic stagnancy and, in the later periods of their respective lives, worldwide respect and more than a smidge of personal triumph.

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The only difference is that Vogue is a publication based on the work of thousands of people, while Yayoi Kusama is but one very enigmatic person.  This Rizzoli monograph attempts to cover effectively the work of an artist whose career has spanned seven decades and skimmed the best of Pop, Op and conceptual art, working with conventional techniques and installation, both obscure and popular (especially with her collaboration with Louis Vuitton) all with one unifying thread; the polka dot.

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It is a valiant attempt.  The book is sumptuously designed, the paper dense and almost porous, the type blending seamlessly with layout.  No blank white spaces here, instead colour abounds; even the monochromatic pictures of Kusama’s 60′s ‘happenings’ seem to burst forth, even if only from a grainy newspaper cutting.  This is more than a straight retrospective. As the nature of Kusama’s work is to involve the viewer, we also get the reactions people had to her work in the form of press clippings and quotes, which are scattered in with pictures of her work instead of shunted to the back in a neglected appendix.

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The first few pages are full-scale, bleeding-out-of-the-pages Kusama patterns.  One after the other they are revealed, page flick after page flick.  It is seductive, hypnotic.  The patterns of dots and sinuous lines reel you in, which sets the stage for the rest of the book as well as the real meat – the essays.

Ten different contributors tackle ten different aspects of Kusama’s career.  While it may seem like slight overload, it is interesting to read a fresh perspective, to get a fresh pair of eyes to look over things for you that you may have missed previously – of note is the essay ‘Love Forever’ by Olivier Zahm, the founder of Purple Prose who is not particularly shy about free love himself.

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All images from Yayoi Kusama, edited by Louise Neri and Takaya Goto.  The book is published by Rizzoli and is out now.

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