Damien Hirst may have begun 2012 by becoming the art world’s favorite spot painter with his globe-spanning series of exhibitions at Gagosian, but the British superstar must now contend for the title on his home turf. In February, the Tate Modern opened its retrospective exhibition of 150 works by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, which now stands alongside the museum’s recently unveiled Hirst survey.
Kusama is best known for her obsessive use of polka dots and for her voluntary residence in a Japanese psychiatric institution, which she has maintained since 1977. The Tate Modern gives thorough consideration to all six decades of the eighty-three-year-old artist’s varied yet prolific career, staging her work in a sequence of rooms that each display a particular aspect of her practice as a self-contained unit, a format that reflects the immersive installations that stand as some of her most elaborate works to date.
Kusama’s life began in rural Japan where the visual and aural hallucinations that would later characterize her art making began to affect her as a child. In her youth, the artist stared intently at floral tablecloth and began to see the pattern repeated endlessly across her entire field of vision. Such accounts lend a compelling origin myth to Kusama’s artistic practice, making a seamless link between her unique mental states and the consuming environments she would later create.
Her career took off in New York beginning in the 1950s as her work assimilated the dominant modes of the day, from the all-over abstraction at play in her earliest Infinity Net paintings to her notorious happenings staged in the late 1960s. Expect to find ample representation of each of these stages at the Tate Modern, if not a full immersion in Kusama’s utterly unique consciousness.