All posts in “Exhibitions”

Sammy the Camel in "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors"

Muse/News: Arts News from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

September 11, 2017

As of today, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is closed! What a wild ride the last few months have been during this blockbuster exhibition. Now we’re looking ahead to Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect and so is the press. Take a gander at this past week’s press clippings, hand selected by SAM’s PR Manager.

*Clutches Yayoi Kusama exhibition catalogue and cries while Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” plays*

SAM News

Seattle Times photographer Alan Berner visited during the final days of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors and filed this dot-filled send-off. Don’t miss the cameo from our mascot, Sammy the Camel. (Why a camel? Here’s the scoop.)

SAM lands on the celebrity news beat: When Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and singer Ciara had a date night at SAM after we’d closed, the news hit Page Six, W Magazine, Artnet, Ebony, Yahoo, Daily Mail, Entertainment Tonight, Jet, and HuffPo.

Love this Seattle Times RAVE for SAM staff: A visitor lauds our “daily, herculean efforts” during the Kusama run. We couldn’t have done it without our awesome visitors!

Seattle Magazine’s September print edition features our Andrew Wyeth retrospective among their picks for “Fall’s Most Buzzworthy Arts and Culture Events.”

“’The goal was to show that this unrelenting realist evolved and changed, sometimes quite dramatically, over time,’ Junker says. ‘If you think you know Wyeth’s art from the examples we see reproduced and hanging in the well-known museums, I feel certain you will come away from this exhibition totally surprised.’”

Local News

The Seattle Times reports on The Grocery, a new “cutting-edge” arts center in a former—you guessed it—grocery store in Beacon Hill.

Also in the neighborhood: Artist Ari Glass unveiled a new installation at Beacon Hill’s Art Deco building Pacific Tower, featuring his signature gold leaf and mica elements.

This should be an amazing show: The Stranger’s A&P features the sculpture of Humaira Abid, coming soon to a solo show at Bellevue Arts Museum.

Inter/National News

The journey continues for the home of Rosa Parks, recently shipped to Berlin and restored by an American artist. The house now has a ticket back home to the US—with an uncertain future ahead.

Poet John Ashbery died on Sunday at the age of 90; did you know he was also a collage artist, who made his solo debut as a professional at the age of 81?

Pierre Bergé, longtime business partner of Yves Saint Laurent, died Friday at the age of 86. We were honored to share his legacy during Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style.

 And Finally

The art of eating: Artsy with seven recipes from artists, including—wait for it—avocado toast (by Salvador Dalí, of course).

– Rachel Eggers, SAM’s Manager of Public Relations

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SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Sleepless Midnight

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is quickly coming to a close (September 10!) but we have one more reflection on the prolific artist’s poetry from SAM staff. Read closely and let the words of Yayoi Kusama linger long after the exhibition leaves our galleries. The three poems we’ve shared here on SAM Blog were all published in Violet Obsession, a collection released in 1998 by Wandering Mind Books. Kusama’s poetry makes explicit much of the subtle and dark underpinnings of her playful visual art. In her writing, we can delve into the sentiments that propel the creation of her soft sculptures, her paintings, her yearning towards an experience of the infinite within a finite world—and these sentiments are perhaps unexpected when held in contrast to the Pop aesthetic that is strongly associated with Kusama.

Rayna Mathis is a writer, swing dancer, and history nerd. She chose to dig into Kusama’s poem, “Sleepless Midnight,” offering her thoughts on the divergence between what we project and how we are perceived as compared to what we feel and how we behave.

SLEEPLESS MIDNIGHT

that I suffer such sorrow and gloom
more wounds than I know what to do with
inflicted by others upon my heart             on sleepless nights like this
I forget I’m covered with cherry petals this spring
I sit dazed by the pain in my heart as time passes me by
the world of men, like the realm of foxes and badgers, bewitched
I go out among people                   and am constantly amazed
they wound one another
behold the wounds and rejoice
ah!         what sort of        world is this?

leaving my body here for now
I stop suddenly                 and gaze at
a nameless wildflower
petals drinking deeply of sunlight
trampled by people, covered with wounds
just keeping silent
my bitter tears know no end

(1987)

– Yayoi Kusama

When I read Yayoi Kusama’s poems, I can’t help but place myself into them. As I turned each page of Violet Obsessions, I became increasingly sad. However, sad is not a wrong feeling to feel. I appreciate things that force me (whether I am aware of it or not) to feel feelings I often deny myself. Anger, sadness, love, jealousy—the feelings society tells me that I am not allowed to feel—the feelings society does not acknowledge because I should have every reason to be happy, always. I become used to the conformity of the business voice, the polite laugh, the casual conversing of hellos and the weather. I become accustomed to crossing my legs while a man spreads his and speeding up when the catcalls latch on to my back.

But, Kusama isn’t here to adjust for anyone. And that is one of the largest reasons I have so much respect and admiration for her. She is so unapologetically herself and better yet, so unapologetically human. To embrace pain, to acknowledge fear, to speak and create despite other people’s comfort—it is chain breaking.

Many of the works in Violet Obsessions are uncomfortable. They are dark, and sad, and gross. Kusama challenges me to understand why I think any of those things.

When I think of the wounds I have inflicted onto others and what has been inflicted onto me, it is always the thoughts that are unspoken. The silence we feel compelled to keep. I wonder who it is that is “just keeping silent”? The petals beneath our feet—the ones we love but hurt through our selfishness? or the people covered in wounds, who have gotten used to their pain?

– Rayna Mathis, School & Educator Programs Coordinator

Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman
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SAM Shops: Take Infinity Home with You

Probably the first thing that pops to mind when you think of Yayoi Kusama is, polka-dots! And, yes, there’s plenty of those in Kusama’s work. But it’s what those polka dots represent that weaves a clear thematic thread through everything she makes. And we mean everything, including the Kusama-studio products in the SAM Shop on the 4th floor and on the ground floor. To Kusama, a polka-dot is a way toward the infinite: “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos.” So it will come as no surprise that items produced by Kusama’s studio, from scarves to glasses cases, are covered in polka-dots. We’ve also got Kusama-inspired jewelry that makes use of this visual refrain in unique and surprising ways. Take a look at some of these items and don’t miss the SAM Shop during your visit to see Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, closing September 10!

 

Yayoi Kusama eye glass case, $16.95

Yayoi Kusama vinyl pouch, $15.95

Yayoi Kusama puzzle, $75

Red Coco neoprene bracelet, $72

Kusama Pumpkin

Kusama soft sculpture pumpkins, $250/$450

Photos: Natali Wiseman
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Behind the Scenes of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

“All of the drawings, the paintings, and the sculptures that you will find in this exhibition, give you a context of how and why she arrived at these Infinity Mirror Rooms and why they are so very special.”
– Catharina Manchanda, Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Take a look behind the scenes of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors with curator Catharina Manchanda, on view at Seattle Art Museum until September 10. Don’t miss your chance for this in-depth perspective into a legendary artist’s 65-year career—Plan your visit to SAM today!

 

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Portrait of Yayoi Kusama

10 Surprising Facts About Yayoi Kusama

There are eleven days left to see Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at Seattle Art Museum and by now, you’ve probably seen an infinite number of images of her artwork in your Instagram and Facebook feeds. Hopefully you’ve seen the exhibition in person as well! If not, learn more about Yayoi Kusama below and plan to line up at SAM for day-of timed tickets between now and September 10 to experience infinity through the immersive art of this icon, rebel, and visionary.

  1. Yayoi Kusama arrived in Seattle in 1957 with two kimonos and 200 paintings. This is the first city Kusama visited when she moved to the US.
  2. Kusama was pen pals with Georgia O’Keeffe, Richard Nixon, and the President of France.
  3. She partnered with Louis Vuitton to design a clothing line in 2012.
  4. Narcissus Garden, a rogue performance piece by Kusama, was installed outside of the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966 with the support of one of the curators, however she was asked to leave the premises.
  5. She was making Pop art before Andy Warhol.
  6. Assemblage artist and filmmaker, Joseph Cornell and Kusama had an intimate friendship that prompted his mother to dump a bucket of water on them once when she caught them kissing.
  7. The quintessential polymath, Kusama has published numerous literary works.
  8.  A firm believer in love forever, Kusama performed a gay marriage way before gay marriage was legal.
  9. In 2016, she was ranked as the most expensive living female artist on aggregate.
  10. Yayoi Kusama has been producing art work for more than six decades.
Image: Yayoi Kusama with recent works in Tokyo, 2016, Courtesy of the artist, © YAYOI KUSAMA, Photo: Tomoaki Makino.
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SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Doing Nothing

As Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors continues through September 10, SAM staff is discovering new dimensions to this infinite artist through Kusama’s writing. Violet Obsession, published in 1998 by Wandering Mind Books pairs her poetry with images from Kusama’s Happenings and performative activations of her artworks. Like the threads through the many media this versatile artist has worked in, the themes in Kusama’s poetry continue to extend the driving force behind her creations. They also bring new insights into the personal life, rather than the persona, of Yayoi Kusama. SAM Staff, like the rest of the world, is fascinated by this iconic and impressive woman, and reading her poetry in Violet Obsession has prompted some reflection on the artwork currently installed in our galleries, as well as on our own lives and perspectives.

Hear from Wendy Saffel, a dancer, marketing pro, and killer copy editor, on the demure progressions of time in “Doing Nothing.”

DOING NOTHING

the trees dropped all their colored leaves
the earth is hidden ’neath fallen leaves
time has come ’round to the autumn season
I sit among all the fallen leaves
having become an old gray-haired woman
just     stacking up days, doing nothing
all I’ve done, all I do     is reluctantly
grow old

the wind took all the fallen leaves
carried them off to the ends of the cosmos
empty landscapes wherever you look
here and there     crushed bits of rubbish
I go off that way, ramble back this way
falling apart with no rhyme or reason     trembling
just idly tagging along as the seasons advance

(1983)

– Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is a sextuple threat. She’s a painter, sculptor, film maker, performance artist, installation artist, and, as SAM staff are exploring about her right now, a writer. Reading Kusama’s poems from the collection Violet Obsession is a thought-provoking dive, deep into the artist’s despair. Unrequited love. Depression. Germaphobia. Fear of sex. Sleeplessness. More. The images she weaves are visceral. The language is shocking. The impact—indelible.

But this poem, one of the shortest and quietest of the collection, this is the one that has me thinking curious thoughts and scouring the internet to understand the woman behind SAM’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition. Here, Kusama’s despair is around having grown old, being a gray-haired woman doing nothing, falling apart, and idly tagging along. When I reached the end of the poem and saw that she wrote it in 1983, I thought “whaaaaaaat?” That was 34 years ago! She was a mere 54 at the time!

In the 34 years since, she has been named “World’s Most Popular Artist” multiple times by organizations looking at annual figures for the most-visited exhibitions in the world. She was named to Time magazine’s list of The 100 Most Influential People, has earned lifetime achievement awards, film and literary awards, and . . . oh I could go on about what I found in my hours of internet searching, but suffice it to say that Yayoi Kusama has had a brilliant career in the decades since she expressed feeling old and worthless. Granted, her career seemed to have had a revival in the 1980s, right about the time she wrote this poem, so of course, how could she have seen this all coming. Now at 88, she is still a prolific artist, having created all the massive, eye-popping paintings and sculptures in our exhibition’s first gallery in just the last two years.

I yearn to sit down and talk with her and hear what perspective she has on all of it now. Is she satisfied? Or does she still feel worthless? What drives her still into her ninth decade? I bet some of this is answered in 2011’s Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, which is now going to the top of my nightstand reading stack.

Oh, if only I can do as much nothing as her in my remaining years.

– Wendy Saffel, Marketing Manager

Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman.
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Object of the Week Special Edition: The Western Mystery

This blog series is designed to focus on art works on SAM’s collection but this week we’re bringing you a special feature on Spencer Finch: The Western Mystery. This nebulous formation of suspended glass panes is currently installed at the Olympic Sculpture Park in the PACCAR Pavilion and will be on view through March 3, 2019. So, while not actually an artwork owned by SAM, this piece will be hanging above the heads of visitors to the sculpture park for years to come. Find out more about the artist and this mesmerizing art work from Carrie Dedon, Assistant Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art.

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SAM Staff Reads: Kusama’s Turbulent Garden

Yayoi Kusama’s visual art output is prolific, but did you know that she was also a writer? Beyond penning her autobiography, Infinity Net, in 2002 she is also the author of Hustler’s Grotto (1992), a collection of three novellas written between 1983 and 1992, and various books of poetry. Stay tuned to this blog series for a focus on Violet Obsession (1998), a collection of Kusama’s poems paired with images of her performative work including her Happenings and her activations of her Infinity Mirror Rooms. We’ve invited SAM staff to spend some time with Kusama’s poems and select a piece that speaks to them. We’ll be sharing selections from Violet Obsession alongside the musings and inspirations of SAM Staff. The exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is on view at SAM through September 10.

SAM’s Copywriter and Content Strategist, and an author in her own right, Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, gets things started with with her thoughts on one of the more light-hearted poems in the collection.

TURBULENT GARDEN (AT THE PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL)

it’s a breeding ground of stray cats here
parent cats have mated with their children to produce children
brothers have mated with sisters to produce children
and now the place is teeming with cats
when beams of the crescent moon fell upon the garden
the cats ate that moon
stars adhered one by one to the garden
the cats played with the stars
it’s a garden of cats
where no one dies and the numbers only multiply

it’s an exceedingly strange
cat way of calculating
all the leaves from the treetops       fell upon the cats
when the lonely winter comes
the shadows of cats just keep on increasing
they’re playing with one another
in the deathless garden
the rotting tails of fish accumulate
left over rice too is put aside
things human beings have contributed

they’re all disfigured cats
some with only half a tail
some with an ear torn off
some lame
not one complete cat in the lot

No one appears to have died
it’s even more turbulent on windy days
“meow, meow”—they run around
busy f***ing
they leap about
I’m glad I’m not a cat
I wasn’t born a cat
because I’m not really fond of all that f***ing

(1983)

– Yayoi Kusama

For me, the first appeal of this poem is the repetition. Kusama’s concerns with reproduction ad infinitum are clearly linked with breeding in this poem in a way that a work like Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field only implies. But in this poem, as in her visual work, what she reproduces is imagery, not just words (though the refrain of “cats” does reverberate throughout). Disfigured cats nibbling on a sliver of moon or batting around stars, never dying and endlessly multiplying are the fish tails and rice (rather than meat and potatoes) of the poem. But, it’s the turn that occurs at the end, when Kusama interjects in the first person, that lifts the poem above a landscape of feral felines into a psychological setting, all too fitting given the subtitle of the poem. We are taken directly into Kusama’s self proclaimed issues with sex at the end of this poem in a straightforward way. In her autobiography she talks at length about her fear of the phallus as the impetus to creating the soft sculptures that have appeared often in her work: in frames on wall, on furniture and boats, and in her Infinity Mirror Room. In contrast to the sheer volume of this motif in her visual work, her quick mention of being glad she’s not a cat allows the poem to be a playful menagerie in some undying garden, only lightly touched by human influence.

I think immediately of Turtle, my childhood cat. For weeks my brother almost had me convinced that she was a robot, until I saw her give birth. My father found her on a construction site in Manhattan on his walk home from work. She must have already been pregnant when he brought her into our tiny apartment. A few weeks later my parents pulled me out of elementary school in the middle of the day to come witness the birth of two kittens. Turtle caused another kind of issue at school: inquiries as to if everything was OK at home in response to the large and numerous scratches on my arms. Turtle didn’t take to domesticity and ran away within the year. We eventually gave her kittens to a neighbor. Turtle might not have liked being a mother, but she taught me how to climb trees.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Source: Kusama, Yayoi. Violet Obsession. Translated by Hisako Ifshin and Ralph F. McCarthy with Leza Lowitz. Edited by Alexandra Munro. Berkeley, CA: Wandering Mind Books, 1998.
Illustration: Natali Wiseman.

 

 

 

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Kusama with Zoë Dusanne at her solo exhibition at the Dusanne Gallery, Seattle, December 1957.

Kusama’s Full Circle

“My constant battle with art began when I was still a child. But my destiny was decided when I made up my mind to leave Japan and journey to America.”

–Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama declared her official purpose on her visa application to the United States in 1957 as exhibiting art in Seattle. Few people remember that this internationally renowned artist’s first exhibition in the US was a solo show at the Zoë Dusanne Gallery. It included a group of roughly 20 watercolors and pastels selected from the 200 works that Kusama brought with her to America on this first trip. Kusama began her international career here in Seattle, where her celebrated work now returns with in the dazzling new exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at SAM through Spetember 10.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors spans 65 years of the artist’s career, from the era of Kusama’s early pastels to recent works making their North American debut. The exhibition features five of her immersive, multi-reflective Infinity Mirror Rooms, including the recently completed All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016). Interspersed among the Infinity Mirror Rooms from which the exhibition draws its title, are paintings and sculptures which Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, describes as, “the backbone of Kusama’s artistic practice.” Manchanda further explains, “This exhibition is a unique opportunity to see the life work of a true visionary. Taken together, Kusama’s drawings, paintings, sculptures, and infinity rooms add up to a Gesamtkunstwerk [total art work]. Her web-like structures are equally reminiscent of microscopic cell formations or macroscopic visions of outer space. I recommend looking closely at these works. They are the key to understanding the infinity rooms.”

As Louis Guzzo pointed out in a 1957 Seattle Times feature on Kusama’s Dusanne Gallery show, “Several of the smaller works are beautiful, but one must study them closely to realize the intricacies of their microscopic worlds.” Kusama asserts all of her work is part of a whole, a whole that we are all a part of in Kusama’s concept of the infinite.

In 1959, two years after her Seattle gallery exhibition, the prolific artist and writer Donald Judd wrote of a Kusama show in New York: “Sidney Tillim writing in Arts, predicted that the show would prove the sensation of the season. It did prove to be so and has remained one of the few important shows of the last two years.” Judd’s remarks could have been written last week, as Kusama’s work remains as sensational today as it was in 1959.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter/Content Strategist

Image: Kusama with Zoë Dusanne at her solo exhibition at the Dusanne Gallery, Seattle, December 1957.
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