“Obsesión Infinita,” by Yayoi Kusama at The Malba… another reason to visit Buenos Aires

By Tracey Chandler

Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, and her recent exposition, “Obsesión Infinita,” at The Malba in Buenos Aires is yet another reason to visit Argentina’s capital.

“Obsesión Infinita,” is the result of a brave attempt to cover the creative life and works of Yayoi Kusama by Philip Larratt-Smith (Vice Curator in Chief at The Malba, Buenos Aires) and Frances Morris (Curator of Kusama’s works in The Tate Modern, London).

The exposition leads the interested observer through the ups and downs of Kusama’s turbulent and passionate artistic career, which encompasses photography, installation, painting, sculpture, live performance or “happenings” and the written word, and which spans across more than 50 years in both New York (where she lived for many years) and in her native Japan.

If you’re planning a visit to Buenos Aires in the near future, try to include a visit to The Malba and Kusama’s exposition on your to-do list. “Obsesión Infinita” runs until the 16th September and costs 40 pesos.

A brief summary of “Obsesión Infinita”

“Obsesión Infinita,” is the culmination and celebration of the life’s works of Yayoi Kusama, spanning across a period of more than 60 years, beginning in the early 1950s and stretching to the present day.

The variety of materials and disciplines present in the exhibition is testament to breadth of Kusama’s work and artistic interests. The Malba presents a series of ink drawings, collages, paintings (including examples of Kusama’s famous “Infinity Net Paintings”), sculptures, writings, installations, artistic videos, documentary footage/interviews with the artist, scrapings from magazine and newspaper publications, artistic photography and references to the performance art or “happenings” which she organised in New York during the 1960s.

The entrance, the ground floor and one of the exhibition rooms on the second floor of The Malba are devoted entirely to Kusama. The title of the exhibition is key to gauging a fair understanding of the psychological importance Kusama’s artistic pursuits have assumed, and will continue to assume, on her personal life and emotional wellbeing. There are no two words best suited to describe this Japanese artist’s incredible creative/psychological journey than “obsession” and “infinite.”

What you need to know before you visit

It’s not necessary to know lots about Kusama, her life or her artistic pursuits, before turning up at The Malba. Her work, in general based on a palette of strong colours, repetitive fine details and provocative text, is interesting enough in itself. It can’t hurt, however, to visit the exhibition armed with at least a few facts and important details…

  • Kusama was beaten from a very young age by her mother because she wanted to pursue the life of an artist and not conform to the subservient role of the typical, house-centred, Japanese woman of the times. Kusama has said that she naturally fell into the rhythm of producing large quantities of works at an incredible rate as a way of defying what her mother was trying to beat out of her.

  • Kusama was also forced by her mother, from the age of 10, to follow her father and spy on him during his sexual relations with other women. She would then report back what she had seen to her mother so that her mother was then able to replicate the same situations that Kusama’s father had been enjoying with other women. When commenting on her relationship with Joseph Cornell, Kusama once said, “We were the perfect couple. I hated sex and he was impotent.”

  • She was a Japanese woman, living in New York in the 1960s, surrounded by emerging pop art artists, such as Andy Warhol, and developing installations which centralised on a repetition of soft, cushion-like, castrated, phalluses. It was easy for her to find recognition or understanding. This rejection only added to her constant emotional and psychological turmoil. In 1963, Kusama covered the walls of the empapeló la Gertrude Stein Gallery with a photo of a boat, filled with these phalluses, repeated 999 times. Warhol is said to have said, “Wow wow wow.” Three years later, in his exhibition in the Leo Castelli Gallery, Warhol covered the walls of this gallery with a photo of red cows, repeated many times. “They all imitated my illness,” was Kusama’s only comment.

  • In 1977, Kusama voluntarily admitted herself into the Seiwa Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Japan, where she continues working on her creative projects until this day. It appears to be the only way in which she can find any kind of peace.

Highlights

The highlights of the exhibition without a doubt are The Infinity Net paintings, the psychedelic installations and the ink drawings of the 1950s.

The Infinity Net Paintings are an important set of paintings in the life and work of Kusama because both the process and the product present Kusama’s obsessive nature and the important role art has played on helping her to find some kind of emotional/psychological balance.

The installations are nothing are visual gems. The immediate impact they have on the eye is not to be missed. Kusama’s early ink drawings during the 1950s, presented in the second floor exhibition room as you enter, are very beautiful. The detail in each drawing is attractive, with each design noticeably individual and highly independent from the rest.

Don’t forget to contribute to Kusama’s idea of “art in motion” too. When you enter The Malba, you will be given a page of stickers with your entrance ticket which you can then either choose to share with Kusama in her sticker room on the ground floor or, like I did, take with you and get creative in your own version of “Obsesión Infinita” at home.

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