Kusama – Infinity

Yayoi Kusama is the most financially successful female artist in the world today. But her road to success was far from easy. They say that tragedy is an artist’s great inspiration, but this is ridiculous. In her documentary, Kusama – Infinity, filmmaker Heather Lenz pieces together a fascinating story of this little-known, yet wildly popular artist.

Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto city in Japan. As a child, she developed a love of art, but that love was discouraged by her family. She grew up in a family in turmoil. Her father’s unhappiness drew him to have numerous affairs, and her conservative mother did not want her daughter to pursue art as any kind of future.

In spite of the discouragement from her family, Kusama pursued an art career. She embraces the modern art form with large paintings of dots. She did not paint dots but applied paint on the canvas allowing the negative space to create the dot. While beautiful, Kusama could not find success in male-dominated Japan.

Artist Yayoi Kusama next to her “Dot Car” (1965) in KUSAMA – INFINITY. Photo credit: © Harrie Verstappen. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

“…her innovative ideas were being copied, more stolen, by the most popular male artists including Andy Warhol.”

Moving to the States, Kusama’s work found notoriety. Her dot paintings gained popularity, and she made bigger and bigger versions of this work. She moved on to bolder pieces including stuff socks protruding from everyday furniture, and her infamous mirrored Infinity Rooms. While the much more liberal art scene in New York tentatively embraced her work, Kusama received insidious backlash in that same male-dominated industry. Soon, her innovative ideas were being copied, more stolen, by the most popular male artists including Andy Warhol.

Sexism and racism at that time made it difficult to find financial backers for her work. Her public opposition to the Vietnam War didn’t help either. Add the fact that her ideas were being stolen by other prominent artists, Kusama developed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder causing her to mentally deteriorate. Her frustrations led to depression which led to jumping out a window as a suicide attempt.

Lenz’s Kusama – Infinity beautifully captures the work and life story of Yayoi Kusama and follows the downward spiral that was Kusama’s life. The first half of the film follows her harrowing journey as an artist struck by a disapproving family and hometown, the discrimination based on her race and gender, and the theft of her idea and the art community that didn’t care. Nothing in her life would ever come easy.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room-Love Forever, 1966/1994. Installation view, YAYOI KUSAMA, Le Consortium, Dijon, France, 2000. Image © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of David Zwirner, NewYork; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London; YAYOI KUSAMA Inc.

“…beautifully captures the work and life story of Yayoi Kusama and follows the downward spiral that was Kusama’s life.”

The second half then documents her phoenix-like rise to her wild success today and her return home to a city that once shunned her. It is a subtle, yet inspiring rise from the ashes.

Kusama – Infinity mostly uses interviews from friends, fans, and experts to tell Kusama’s story. Lenz also interviews Yayoi Kusama herself. Meek and reserved, Kusama reflects philosophically on art and her life.

Let it be known; I’m pretty much an oaf when it comes to art. I like my art to look like actual things. Kusama – Infinity makes the world of modern abstract art accessible to the unsophisticated like me. It’s also a portrait of a fighter. Kusama could have (others would say “should have”) given up on her passion, when those around discouraged, mocked and exploited her. She was beaten down in the final round but managed to lay a final blow to her critics.

Kusama – Infinity (2018) Directed by Heather Lenz. Featuring Yayoi Kusama.

8 out of 10 stars

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