The Seattle Review of
Books is asking local luminaries, “if you could give everyone in Seattle one
book as a gift this holiday season, what book would you choose and why?” Here
are selections from Amada Cruz, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom
Director and CEO.
people like Pratt or Mississippi activist Medgar Evers by erecting a bronze statue
or naming a park after them is also meaningful and important, there’s something
about the domesticity and “everyday-ness” of a face on a stamp that’s
just as appealing. It carries emotional power.”
The Stranger’s Jasmyne
Robert William’s The Father of Exponential Imagination, now on view at
the Bellevue Arts Museum.
skilled draftsman, Williams’s works are often psychedelic, depicting an
alternate, surreal reality. Jaws unhinge so that the tongue can become a sort
of beast to ride, Tarzan-like men wrestle with aliens, and hungry spirits reach
toward burgers covered in demons.”
“As difficult as it
can be to trace the stories and power plays behind objects, presenting a
permanent collection involves the even more daunting task balancing what
curators want to say with what they can, given the strengths and weaknesses of
their museums’ holdings. One current trend is to structure displays
thematically. When the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in February 2020, for
example, its installation will use works from different times and places to
explore such common concerns as identity and worship.”
Were you one of the more than 130,000 visitors to the Seattle Art Museum’s Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibition over the past summer? If so, then you’ll remember the citywide frenzy of excitement as everyone rushed to get tickets and be the first to post their Kusama selfies. I was lucky enough to visit twice while it was here. So when I learned that the legendary Japanese artist was opening a new museum in Tokyo in October 2017, the same month I would be there, I jumped at the chance to go!
Located in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood, The Yayoi Kusama Museum‘s sleekly curved white building was constructed in 2014, but its purpose was a local mystery until the museum was announced in 2017. The five-story space features paintings, sculpture, and the popular “infinity rooms,” as well as an archive and reading room.
The museum’s inaugural exhibit, Creation is a Solitary Pursuit, Love is What Brings You Closer to Art, focuses on Kusama’s recent work. If you saw the SAM exhibit, you’ll recognize the large, vividly colored paintings of her latest series, My Eternal Soul. Frenetic, pulsing with energy, and almost biological—like gigantic microscope slides of cells and amoeba—there’s an uneasy tension between the bright rainbow of colors that pull you in and the jarring, repetitive forms that repel the eye.
Visiting the Kusama Museum is a surprisingly hushed and peaceful experience. Only four sets of 70 people are admitted per day, so there were only a few people in each gallery. In the museum’s Infinity Room, we were allowed to stay for two full minutes, walking around the glowing cube of orange-gold pumpkins, and we could take all the selfies we wanted. With such a small crowd, it was easy to get into the Infinity Room alone—and now that I’ve done it, I believe silence and solitude is the best way to truly immerse yourself in the illusion of limitless space and light.
Speaking of selfies, you won’t want to miss the museum’s restroom. That might sound odd, but the restrooms and elevators are decorated with wall-to-wall mirrors and red polka dots. Photography isn’t allowed inside the galleries (other than the Infinity Room), but this might just be your best bathroom selfie ever.
Since the SAM exhibition featured five Infinity Rooms, some visitors might feel a bit disappointed that this museum offers only one. But Kusama is a prolific artist in many media, and her museum offers a carefully curated selection representing the themes and styles of her 65-year-long career. While they’re small, the quiet, uncrowded galleries make for a uniquely intimate atmosphere.
If you’re headed to Tokyo and interested in learning more about Kusama’s career and legacy, the Yayoi Kusama Museum gives you a chance to get up close and personal with her art—just as she intended.
IF YOU GO: The Yayoi Kusama Museum is open Thursdays through Sundays and national holidays (closed Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays). Reserve tickets for four timed slots per day on the first day of the month for the following month (e.g., December 1 for the month of January), starting at 10 am, Japan time.
For art institutions evolving with technology and visitors’ tastes, it’s a delicate balance. “In the end, it’s, ‘How do you have a meaningful experience of art?’ and the answers will depend. From a curatorial perspective, I just want to make sure that the traditional and core mission of the museum lives on,” Manchanda said.
Antwaun Sargent for Artsy on the recent unveiling at Princeton of a public sculpture by Titus Kaphar, which was commissioned as part of the university’s reckoning with its history of slavery. Kaphar was the inaugural recipient of SAM’s Gwendolyn Knight | Jacob Lawrence Prize in 2009.
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*
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.)
“’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.’”
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.
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
– 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
Kay Dien Fox was born in China and moved to Seattle with her adoptive parents when she was nine months old. The nickname her parents gave her, Kay Dien, not only fits her personality but also represent her culture and ancestral heritage. It originated from a combination of her legal name Katherine (Kay) and her Chinese name Dien Dien. Since graduating in March of this year, she took a road trip along the West Coast and travelled to Spain. After returning, she realized she should probably get a job and, fortunately, a friend sent her a link to SAM’s career page. She applied to become a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) and could not be happier that she did.
Kay Dien: It’s an incredible exhibition and it doesn’t surprise me that it sells out every day. My favorite piece is The Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. The lights inside the infinity room are on a cycle so the visitor doesn’t know what part of the cycle they will get to experience. The room evokes various responses from the visitor, many exclaim how awesome the room is and some use the room to have a meditative experience.
What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
John Grade’s Middle Fork. I didn’t initially read the description of this piece, but I got enough questions about it that I figured I should know more (other than that it looks like a big tree trunk). After reading the description of Middle Fork, it instantly became my favorite piece on display. Grade combined two wonderful aspects of life: art and nature, to make this prominent piece that hovers over the forum.
Who is your favorite artist?
My favorite artist at the moment is the band The Antlers because of their album Hospice. It’s a beautiful album and not quite as depressing as the title would make it seem.
What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?
Take your time—unless we give you the 15 minute warning, then please make your way towards the door.
Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?
When I’m not at SAM I like to spend time outside and hanging out with people I care about. I also enjoy film photography and traveling. I’m still figuring out what I want to do in the future, but I am planning a 100 day road trip next year.
“It’s very fitting, almost willfully symbolic, that people are talking with one another as they stand together outside. She couldn’t have engineered delivery of her message better if she had tried, or maybe she’s been working at that very accomplishment all these years.”
Last week’s glorious Sculptured Dance event at the Olympic Sculpture Park was everywhere; dance writer Sandra Kurtz previewed it for Seattle Weekly:
“With the audience close enough to see the dust that those sneakers kick up and hear the slap of hands as they clasp in a fast turn (not to mention the mountains in the background), we get a fresh sense of a vital art form.”
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!
“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
“Surprises abound. Historically, Wyeth’s style was called mechanical and unremarkable, but this does not seem so of the diaphanous curtains in the windows of his houses, or the feathers he captures floating in the air on a stormy day.”
Here’s Artsy on the resurgence of shamanic practices in contemporary art; Saya Woolfalk, whose ChimaTEK: Virtual Chimeric Space from SAM’s Disguise exhibition was recently acquired for the SAM collection, is included.
“…a joyful and awkward water ballet titled ‘Ankle Deep’ in the kiddie wading pool at Volunteer Park.” How local artist Briar Bates wanted her death commemorated.
In the Seattle Weekly, comic artist Tatiana Gill illustrates the life of Seattle civil rights legend Reverend Dr. Samuel B. McKinney (now 90 years old!).
All 16 of the artists, authors, performers, and architects on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned last Friday in protest of Trump.
Canadian Art profiled Claudia Rankine and a recent lecture she gave in Banff on white supremacy in art and how institutions can respond to it.
Now on view at the Princeton University Art Museum: paintings by Howard Russell Butler (1856-1934) depicting solar eclipses before photography could capture them in detail.
“While a Navy officer stood by with a stopwatch, Butler worked in 10- or 20-second blocks as he drew the outline of the corona, assessed the colors of the sky and moon, and sketched the contours of the gaseous prominences that bloomed from the eclipse’s edge. Only then did he begin to paint.”
“’Initially, she thought she wanted to go to Paris because up until World War II, Paris was the center of the art world,’ SAM’s curator Catharina Manchanda tells Artspace. But then, Kusama stumbled upon a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe—and everything changed. She went to the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, got a mailing address for O’Keeffe, and sent the artist a stack of drawings with a letter asking for advice on how to get to the United States. ‘At the same time, she also wrote to Kenneth Callahan, a member of the school of Northwest Modernists in Seattle,’ says Manchanda. ‘Luckily, Callahan wrote her back a welcoming letter and introduced her to Zoë Dusanne, an art dealer in Seattle who offered her an exhibition.’ So, Kusama moved to Seattle, and the rest is art history.”
Seattle Weekly profiles SAM’s three-times-a-year event Remix, now in its tenth year. Members of SAM’s Education department—Regan Pro, Philip Nadasdy, and David Rue—are quoted throughout along with choreographer Dani Tirrell, who presented excerpts from the forthcoming Black Bois in this edition:
“’My experience with SAM has been one that they are always pushing conversations forward,’ he told Seattle Weekly. ‘They bring in art and artists that are relevant to the times we live in. SAM does not shy away from things that may make people uncomfortable, and I think that is how they are able to engage with what is taking place in Seattle.’”
And here’s Margo Vansynghel for CityArts on BorderLands, on view through October 29 at King Street Station (go!).
“With such poetic, poignant offerings, BorderLands deals with nationalism, allegiance and resistance. The most arresting works on show tackle the flippant use of language—words often thrown around carelessly since last Nov. 8. What do these signifiers mean to the people who saw their land stolen, to the new arrivals in a nation of immigrants and, finally, to the art world? Some of the most impressive works on view—including Feddersen’s and Kahlon’s—ultimately question the enduring complicity in a system that feeds and sells us a too-easily digestible and unchallenged story about identity.”
The New York Times’ Holland Cotter reviews the Pulitzer Arts Foundation’s Blue Black exhibition; curated by artist Glenn Ligon, it includes works by Kerry James Marshall, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and David Hammons (all represented in SAM’s collection).
A new study reveals that your Instagram “may hold clues to your mental health.” (Wait, was does excessive use of the Amaro filter mean??)
Welcome to our newest blog series, Muse/News—your weekly recap of what’s happening in art news at the Seattle Art Museum and across the world. Check back Mondays for updates on the artists and events making headlines around the world. With the Seattle Art Fair come and gone over the weekend, there’s plenty to digest and our PR Manager, Rachel Eggers delivers the scoop here in a perfect bite size. Enjoy!
All was fair in the city this past week as the Seattle Art Fair breezed into town for the third year in a row. What initially seemed an ambitious experiment is quickly becoming a welcome mainstay of the Seattle cultural calendar.
Chiyo Ishikawa, SAM’s Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture (phew!) has been named Best Curator in Seattle Weekly’s annual readers’ poll. We’re glad everyone loves her as much as we do. Congrats, Chiyo!
“…Kusama’s inclination to control and present her own image in the 1960s seems well ahead of its time. Accepting the way images are consumed, she chose to control the construction, proliferation, and obliteration of hers rather than allowing someone else to do so. Some of her true self was left out in the fiction of the performance. But, she also ensured the performance was conveyed the way she envisioned it. To this end, maybe taking selfies, in an Infinity Mirror Room or elsewhere, can have meaning when done with similar intent—when they give us the chance to perform and let go of ourselves at the same time.”
Emily Pothast of the Stranger offered compelling thoughts on the fair and offered her five don’t-miss highlights.
Are you “here for the right reasons”? The New York Times visits a rose-filled one-night show. After the recent casting call here, maybe we’ll see a Seattleite embark on the “journey” next season (ugh, you know you’ll watch again).
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’sGrotto (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
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
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
– 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.
Alexandrew (Alex) Wong is an artist and native Seattleite, raised in the south end of the city. He attended Franklin High School where he first learned to use wood tools to create art. At the University of Washington, Alex thrived and was accepted into the School of Art as a 3D4M major. He gained skill sets using tools to create multimedia sculptures with glass, wood, steel, and ceramics. Alex joined the SAM as a Visitor Services Officer (VSO) after he graduated. He’s been here for about a year and a half and truly enjoys it.
SAM: Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors opened June 30 and runs until September 10. What is your favorite piece in this exhibition? Alex: My favorite piece in Yayoi Kusama is The Obliteration Room. The idea of creating a room and sticking colored dots on the living room surface is genius. The concept is so playful and colorful. One thing I struggled with in school was using color, I was terrible at it. But the room itself uses people to contribute to the art and has them color the piece themselves. Genius.
What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?
My favorite piece at SAM is the Native American house posts. The skill in creating those posts is phenomenal. Imagine the carver themselves, just chipping away at a log for hours to create the four things that hold your house up.
Who is your favorite artist? Kendrick Lamar, his music keeps me going. When it’s time to get hyped, I start bumping his tunes. For those wondering put on “m.A.A.d City,” “Swimming Pools,” “HUMBLE,” “King Kunta,” and “Backseat Freestyle.” Tell me these don’t get you hyped up too.
What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM? The bathrooms in the forum are to the left at the end of John Grade’s Middle Fork (the south side of the tree).
Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing? I work at an art co-op in Capitol Hill, Blue Cone Studios, where I create ceramic sculptures. So to whomever is reading this, come check my work out. I’ll teach you a thing or two about clay. I’ll provide materials and lessons. We do art walk every second Thursday. Come by and let’s talk art.
– Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer
All summer long we’re activating your creative side with free drop-in studio hours every Sunday at SAM. Led by local artists and designed for all ages, the art activities taking place between 11 am and 1 pm during Drop-In Studio: Infinite Reflections will touch on themes and ideas behind Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors and how the artwork in the exhibition connects to their own work and process. We’ve asked each of our teaching artists to share what about the Kusama exhibition has inspired them and the art activities that they will be leading.
There are a few things that I can relate to Kusama’s work conceptually and aesthetically. She is interested in the relationships between people and the world by creating infinite imagery of nature and our society. Kusama’s Phalli’s Field has been one my favorite installations of hers since I was young. Organic, white, phallic-shaped soft sculptures with red polka dots in a reflection mirror room create an infinite reality that gives me a chill. All of her paintings are incredible, but I’m always mesmerized by her older paintings from the 1950s to ’70’s. Repetitions of scale- or cell-like small round shapes continues almost outside of the frames. Both installations and paintings can relate to my repetitive shapes and textures.
In my work, I explore space, memories, the space between atoms, cells, between people, objects, air, stars, water and sky; the cosmic glue which holds us and the universe together. My repetitive imageries are often inspired by cell divisions or clusters of atoms. Everything that exists in this world is part of us, we are all related to one another, just like how small atoms accumulated to forms entire universe. Unity, as a whole, is my foundation.
In the spirit of Kusama’s process-based studio practice, we’re going to make collaborative cut paper “Infinity Nets.” As this collective infinity net grows into an immersive installation, elements of form, movement, positive/negative space, light, and shadow will all come into play.
I feel a kinship to Kusama’s emphatic nature and I strongly identify with the inherent necessity to keep creating throughout one’s life. Since childhood, I’ve always sought solace through the act of art making. Come explore the resonant power of repetition and accumulation using scissors as your drawing tool!
Kusama has artistically given me permission to create my own world and live inside it infinitely. As a painter, I’ve been exploring invisibility using large colorful canvases to create worlds where the invisible is seen. Despite hiding, the women in my paintings are still there. It’s a world where women, daisies, jack-o-lanterns and textile structures can all exist together. Apart from working on this series, I began the publication, Hey Lady, a collection of art honoring one woman per issue. In two years, it has included hundreds of artists internationally, highlighted eight crucial women in various fields, held exhibits around the country, and created a world where women experience a creative outlet that is nurtured, validated, and celebrated. With my workshop at SAM, you’ll be able create your own world exploring your reflection, obsessions and inspiration from the exhibit by making and filling up a handmade zine!
My Vermilion Series is a collection of drawings searching out the interface between the psyche and its influences, between inner and outer worlds. The drawings result from my visceral responses to sensation, emotion, and reaction. The use of the color vermilion began as an investigation of childhood memory and has morphed into a practice of working with only this one color for three years. The drawings are made with acrylic forms painted on paper, which I then draw on with white marker. The circular marks transform the flat forms to three dimensions. I intend to suggest the body with its urges, transformations, and ultimate transcendences.
In a time when we are increasingly distanced from our corporeal selves by technology and stress, this work attempts to bring to the surface powerful and peculiar sensations, emotions, and reactions, so we may act authentically in this shifting world.
The projects we’re doing in the Drop-In Studio begin with the circle or dot, echoing Kusama’s extravagant use of that form. Her focus originated with the hallucinations that caused her to exteriorize her obsessions and fears. Many artists have this phenomenon in common: what would seem to be a departure from sanity or normalcy comes to be the fertile origin of our work. Standing in the center of a black field of tar paper (9’ x 20’), participants draw circles with themselves as the center. Making a mark of chalk on tarpaper is immensely satisfying and is a visceral moment of art made with the body. At the worktables, we’ll use black paper to draw on with opaque markers and circle templates, creating their own take-away artwork.
Images: Manifestation, 2017, Junko Yamamoto, 36 x 36 in., oil on canvas. Still Here, 2016, Regina Schilling, oil on canvas, 4 ft x 4 ft., photo: Regina Schilling.Over the River, 2016, Celeste Cooning, installation, screenprint on hand cut Tyvek, paint, mylar, and light. Untitled (vermilion), Ellen Ziegler, 2017, acrylic and white marker on paper, 15 x 11 in.
“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 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.