This is the year of Yayoi Kusama, the veteran avant-gardist from Japan, who made a name for herself in New York's psychedelic '60s before retreating to a Japanese mental institution where she has lived ever since. Recently, she has had several exhibitions of new work that have met with international acclaim. At the moment, in New York alone, she has three concurrent shows, including a major retrospective at MoMA and an exhibition of recent sculptures and paintings at Robert Miller Gallery. But perhaps the most poignant show, and key to the others, is the exhibition of early works on paper at Peter Blum. Here, one can closely examine the genesis and genius of Kusama's achievement.
The 29 small and medium-sized drawings and paintings on paper from the '50s are a cohesive and powerful testament to Kusama's obsessive personality. Each work is packed with hundreds of dots, circles and lines, which are carefully arranged in allover, hypnotic patterns. Several suggest sexual organs that relate to her later sculptural works of ordinary objects covered with phallic shapes made of cloth. Others simply represent the cosmos -- in Kusama's topsy-turvy universe, the black dots are stand-ins for stars. Formally, these works link Abstract Expressionism to Pop and Fluxus. In the end, this show makes a case for the artist as the pivotal figure of postwar, 20th century art. Her art stands at the crossroads of so many esthetic paths, and Kusama, now nearly 70, at last seems to have fulfilled the role she first promised to undertake some 30 years ago--that of sage, seer and prophet.