Most of us would have seen photos of Yayoi Kusama’s artwork in our social media feeds by now—photos taken in mirrored rooms full of glowing orbs, people posing with gigantic misshapen pumpkins, pasting stickers in an all-white room increasingly covered in colourful dots. These striking installations—which Kusama created for the first time in the 1960s—have catapulted the 89-year-old into becoming one of the most well-known artists in the era of digital sharing, leading to Kusama being named the world’s most popular artist through a survey of museum-goers in 2014.
Museum MACAN has recently brought the exhibition YAYOI KUSAMA: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow to Jakarta, after previously being showcased at Sydney and Singapore. Since the public opening on May 12, 2018, thousands of scene-savvy Jakartans have eagerly flocked the museum to experience the installations. And beyond the selfie-friendly exhibits as a definite crowd attractor, Museum MACAN has prepared an extensive showcase of Kusama’s work that spans the artist’s life—from the early paintings that served as an outlet for the artist’s hallucinations, to being shunned by the art world for her controversial performances, up to gaining recognition and appreciation. Twelve sections of the exhibition are arranged along a timeline that progresses from Kusama’s earliest to latest works, interspersed throughout with the artist’s most iconic installations.
The museum entrance features Kusama’s sculpture “Great Gigantic Pumpkin” (2013) and a timeline explaining the trajectory of Kusama’s life and career. Passing the gates, visitors enter the section adorned with the installation titled “Dots Obsession” (2009)—black-dotted yellow balls that fill the space, suspended and sinking halfway into the floor. Some of the balls contain miniatures of Kusama’s infinity mirrored rooms, with openings that allow visitors to peer inside.
This area is followed by the section titled Early Works, showcasing Kusama’s surrealist-influenced paintings in the 1940s, which explored circular and repetitive forms as a way to enunciate the artist’s hallucinations. Showcased nearby is the installation “Narcissus Garden” (1966), featuring mirrored balls that the artist installed—unpermitted—at the 33rd Venice Biennale as a commentary towards the commercialisation of art.
The next room showed Kusama’s Infinity Nets series, a motif that appeared consistently in her work since the 1950s. Alongside, a section titled Body and Performance presented videos of Kusama’s performances in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s, including “Body Festivals”, “Naked Happenings”, and “Anatomic Explosions”. Returning to Japan in 1973, Kusama began an experimentation period which explored motifs from her early work in various media, showcased in the section titled Experiments in Japan.
In the 2000s, Kusama produced a series of monochromatic pen drawings titled “Love Forever”, which are displayed in Museum MACAN surrounding the installation titled “I Want to Love on a Festival Night”. This hexagonal box allows three different spectators to peer inside at the same time, enabling them to see each others’ reflections surrounded by an array of colour-changing lights.
The final section in the area is titled My Eternal Soul, showcasing paintings that the artist began in 2009 until now that explores themes of life and death. One of them is eponymously titled “Life is the Heart of a Rainbow” (2017), which carries a message of the artist’s acceptance of death by creating art as a way of living.
A song and video installation, “Manhattan Suicide Addict” (2010) is based on Kusama’s depression and suicide attempts. This is placed near “Infinity Mirrored Room – Brilliance of the Souls” (2014), which engulfs the visitor in an endless space filled with solemn glowing orbs, calling for visitors to contemplate their existence in this world. Taking the escalator to the upper level, visitors are invited to make their mark in “The Obliteration Room” (2002-present), where colourful stickers, accumulated over time, obliterate the white walls and furniture.
In addition to the Kusama exhibition, Museum MACAN also provides related discussions and lectures, along with regular programs that include a “Pumpkin Playdough” program for children and a Kusama-themed sculpture workshop.
Take your friends and relatives over Eid break to see the artwork of Yayoi Kusama in Museum MACAN. The exhibition is open to public from May 12 to September 9, 2018. Check out museummacan.org for information on ticketing and schedules.
Article by Dinda Mundakir
Photography by Daniel Jiang