“Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.” This is a quote from Yayoi Kusama, who has a widely anticipated exhibit coming to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) called Infinite Love. It will be shown from October 14, 2023 to September 7, 2024. It includes three of her newest pieces which have never been to the West Coast before. According to SFMOMA, this will be, “Kusama’s first solo presentation in Northern California.” Their website says tickets are already selling out and the only availabilities are during weekdays. So why is it selling out so quickly? Who is this woman and what is the significance of this exhibit?
Yayoi Kusama was born in Nagano, Japan in 1929. She experienced a lot of trauma during her childhood. Her mother charged her to spy on her father cheating on her mother and would take out her anger for what she saw happening to her marriage by beating her daughter. The pressure and trauma Kusama experienced began to give her hallucinations she would have for the rest of her life in which she would see intense patterns everywhere she looked. While at first she was afraid of her hallucinations, she later learned to embrace them and they began to influence her artwork. In 1958, at the age of 28, Kusama moved to New York without her parent’s blessing. In New York, Kusama experienced many forms of discrimination based on race and gender. The artworld in New York at the time widely consisted of rich white men. On top of this, World War II had come to an end fairly recently and there was much remaining malice and hostility towards Japanese people.
But Kusama continued to create her work despite the discrimination she faced. In the beginning of her career in New York, she created what she called Infinity Nets which were created by making many small dots across a canvas. They were inspired by her hallucinations and were meant to be hypnotic. She also created Infinity Rooms which, when entered, give the viewer the sense that the room was never ending. She would put patterns in her Infinity Rooms such as her signature polka dotted pumpkin to give dimension to the illusion. As her career progressed, Kusama also experimented with fashion and performative art. She created many fashion pieces with polka dots all over them which she is still very well known for today. She also explored performative art during the 1960s as a way of protesting the Vietnam War. In one of her most famous pieces, she created hundreds of reflective plastic balls she called her Narcissus Garden. She sold each one for two dollars as a way of critiquing the relationship between money and art. She was later kicked out, but her installation remained.
The exhibit at SFMOMA will include two Infinity Rooms as well as a large pumpkin piece. The first Infinity Room, Dreaming of Earth’s Sphericity, I Would Offer My Love, is one of Kusama’s newest pieces. It looks like a box about the size of a small room from the outside, but a step inside reveals large polka dots on the mirrored walls as well as several polka-dot shaped windows that offer a glance at the real world outside. Her LOVE IS CALLING Infinity Room which will also be at SFMOMA has long, colorful, polka dotted tendrils coming up from the floor and hanging from the ceiling. It’s less new, but it hasn’t been to the West Coast before. Her final piece that will be exhibited, Aspiring to Pumpkin’s Love, the Love in My Heart, is a large, yellow, polka dotted pumpkin statue with five pumpkin shapes fused together.
SFMOMA offers a limited amount of free tickets on the first Thursday of each month starting in November for all Bay Area families (just tell your teachers you were sick). They also have Free Family Days which offer admission to up to four adults with at least one child or teen. As the SFMOMA website says, “The Infinite awaits.”