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Mirrored Years

Franck Gautherot, Jaap Guldemond, Seungduk Kim
(p. 59-62)

Yayoi Kusama. Mirrored Years delighted visitors to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam last year. The title Mirrored Years refers to both Kusama's recurrent use of mirrors and the exhibition's twofold set-up: the amazing early works, attitudes and strategies of Kusama's time in New York in the 1960s mirroring, so to speak, the equally amazing works that she continues to produce forty years later in her studio in Tokyo.

It was the extraordinary freshness and power of her recent work that took us back to Kusama's very fruitful years in the U.S. Mirroring several aspects of her recent work with her work of the 1960s highlights the abiding force of Yayoi Kusama's oeuvre. The juxtaposition of renowned installations such as the Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli's Field from 1965 with a recent ‘immersive' mirror room such as Infinity Mirror Room – Fireflies on the Water (2000), and the juxtaposition of the Kusama's famous Narcissus Garden at the Venice Biennale in 1966, comprising hundreds of mirrored balls in front of the Italian and Dutch Pavilions, with the site-specific installation Invisible Life (2000), comprising dozens of convex mirrors on the walls and ceiling of a network of corridors, reveals the coherence of Kusama's oeuvre over the years while simultaneously highlighting the freshness and innovative nature of certain themes explored in her work.

With the resurgence of interest in her work over the last decade or so, Kusama has been known for her striking use of colour as a strategy in exploring the power and possibilities of visual perception. Since Kusama is now invited all of the world to (re)produce herself again and again as the ‘polka dot queen' that she once was, we set ourselves the challenge of restricting the use of colour in the exhibition, focussing instead on her black and white works and those that employ mirroring and reflection.

This curatorial concept afforded us the opportunity of placing greater emphasis on other aspects of Kusama's oeuvre, and the coherence and renewing of Kusama's highly idiosyncratic formal idiom and exploration of different techniques. For example a juxtaposition of Kusama's use of real mirrors with Kusama's use of a mirroring effect as in the famous Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1963) in which a rowing boat covered with white phallic protrusions has been ‘mirrored' by 999 posters of the same boat covering the three walls and the floor of the exhibition space. Another interesting and telling juxtaposition is that of an early threedimensional painting with a huge new Infinity Net Painting (2007). The more recent work seems to be a two-dimensional and enlarged version of the ‘original' early 1960s work. Or a documentary film of Kusama's performance in Central Park in New York next to a recent ‘staged' performance in which Kusama uses herself as a flowerpot as part of a traditional ikebana flower arrangement.

Apart from a strategically placed anthropomorphic, red and black installation The Regeneration of Time , Kusama's use of colour in the exhibition has been restricted to the aforementioned ‘immersive' mirror rooms that appear neutral and white from the outside, and her psychedelic 16mm film Self Obliteration (1966) in the exhibition's third and final part space. The exhibition was tailored to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen's large galleries, which offered the ideal conditions for building a landscape. Introduced by a zigzagging corridor dotted with convex shaped mirrors, the visitors enter Kusama's world by seeing a distorted image of themselves. At the end of the corridor the visitor had two choices; turning right into a large day-lit space with a huge window offering a view over a garden, in which a sort of open landscape consisting of The Regeneration of Time, Narcissus Garden and Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show, and a few related two-dimensional and three-dimensional paintings had been created. Turning left, the visitor entered the museum's vast main exhibition space, darkened at its centre but with its four walls lit to welcome the fifty black and white paintings of the Love Forever series (2005 – 2008). This series was hung side by side, in a single line of black figures, eyes, fishes, flowers, stripes, mouths and other recurrent motifs. The centre of the space hosted a field of puffy, silver clouds, creating a wavy atmosphere.Walking between the clouds, knowing their secret, is like being high, naturally, freed from gravity and the burden of weight. Miles high up. The combination of the strict horizontal line of the black and white Love Forever paintings and the fluffy silver and black sprayed inflated vinyl clouds, furnished a moment of delight despite the almost darkness of the space.
Mirroring the exact size and formal qualities of the first daylit room, the third and final space echoes the up-in-the-air landscape, housing two kaleidoscopic landscapes: Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli Field (1965) and Fireflies on the Water (2000), both mirror boxes to be entered. The Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli Field is literally an endless field of phallic protrusions (with white with red dots); appealing and soft, whereas Fireflies on the Water is a giant kaleidoscope of small coloured LED lights floating like flies over a dark water basin. A short pier allowed visitors to enter the centre of the cabin where they could lose themselves in this blinking mind. The effect is strong and longlasting. The journey is gracious and time seems suspended among the multicoloured lights. Projected images of films from the 1960s propose another set of distorted images and psychedelic music in a journey into the past. The ‘love-in', ‘be-in', and related ‘smoke-in' were the mood of those times of war (Vietnam). Kusama time; the priestess of polka dots, of orgies and nude painting performances, the goddess of free love surrounded by her young protégés, of all sexual preferences, ready to be appointed by her. Literally flanked by Kusama's newest sculpture Soaring Spirits (2008), floating freely in the space and expressing Kusama's continuous belief in a free mind, in a multiple and visionary world.

A successful exhibition by Kusama is a trip towards magic, towards the ultimate visual perceptions and sensory experiences of all times. An all time high! The book that accompanies the exhibition has been another collaboration between the three of us and different writers. The amazing researches of Midori Yamamura brought some kind of new informations on Kusama's formal strategy and gives another breaking-rules behaviour by an artist who has claimed throughout decades to be as free as possible from any form of constraint, authority nor moral correctness.
The idea to draw the artist biography through a patient selection of archived photographs – thanks to the studio Kusama to have let us free to investigate and select all kind of material – shows how an artist decided to build up her own photgraphical representation with a precise point of view.
Be snapshots or professional studio shots posed and framed with a great care, this ensemble shows a strong personality as well as it constitutes – in the backgrounds – an extract of a possible catalogue raisonné of Kusama's oeuvre.
Her constant and repeatedly narcissism is mirrored in the use she has done of reflective surfaces.
In this way the title of the exhibition has been the key word to edit and design this book.
Yayoi Kusama : autres titres

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