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Yayoi Kusama
Untitled, 1953

Yayoi Kasuma
Nets (105), 1957

Yayoi Kasuma
No. F, 1959-1961

Yayoi Kasuma
Untitled, 1961

Yayoi Kasuma
Airmail - No. Q2
Accumulation, 1963

Yayoi Kasuma
Accumulation #1., 

yayoi kusama

at paula cooper

by John Mendelsohn

It is tempting to describe Yayoi Kusama's

early work in terms of style: minimalist,

pop, proto-feminist or psychedelic. There is

the obvious commonality she shares with Warhol,

Oldenburg, Hesse and Samaras, and their

European contemporaries. Or we can see Kusama

as an innovator of new genres such as

happenings, performances and multimedia


It is equally seductive to see her work of

this period as part of her life-long struggle

for mental equilibrium in face of a history

of hallucinations, anxieties and compulsions.

The artist has eloquently stated, "I managed

to grope and find a way to live by tracing a

thread that is art. However if it hadn't been

for art, I would have killed myself along time

ago from an inability to withstand the environment."

But as "Yayoi Kusama: The 1950s and 1960s" at

the Paula Cooper Gallery demonstrates, the

great satisfaction of this art is not stylistic

time travel or the poetics of survival. Instead,

it is the visual music Kusama has wrought from

her inner life. The paintings, sculpture and

works on paper carry a psychic charge while

escaping the theatricality of expressionism. The

"Infinity Net" paintings are comprised of small,

looping brushstrokes overlapping to create fields

that are equal part gesture and emptiness. They

transform repetitive behavior into undulating,

meditative space. There are areas of compression

and expansion, signs of local change in a boundless

sea. In a series of works on paper, the fields

organize themselves into circular zones, like the

centers of flowers.

The exhibition also features all-over collages,

including two made from airline stickers, which

while Pop are more obsessive than ironic. There

are a number of examples of Kusama's sculptural

"Accumulations." Particularly strong is an easy

chair completely covered with soft, stuffed

phallic forms. This signature motif can be seen

in wild profusion in one of the photo collages

on view. A film of performances connects symbolic

forms and abstract motifs, like Kusama's recurring

dots, to real bodies.

Kusama's recent work will be the subject of 

upcoming exhibitions at the Robert Feldman

Gallery and at the Los Angeles County Museum

of Art.

Yayoi Kusama: The 1950s and 1960s 

Paula Cooper Gallery

155 Wooster, NYC, NY 10012

May 3 - June 21, 1996.

John Mendelsohn is a New York artist

who occasionally writes on art.