Trend Alert: Yayoi Kusama is Crazy

by Corinna Kirsch on May 25, 2012 · 6 comments Opinion

Yayoi Kusama is having one busy year. Her major retrospective at the Tate closes June 5th and will travel to the Whitney. Then there’s her collaboration with Louis Vuitton, which was announced just this week. Everything is on the up-and-up for the 83-year-old artist, assuming she doesn’t care about the amount of recent press devoted to her craziness. With Kusama’s exhibitions and fashion line, more people are coming out of the woodwork to discuss her notoriety as a kook—which includes living in a psychiatric ward across the street from her studio.

Earlier this year, ARTINFO wrote about Kusama’s life in a mental institution, but since then, there’s been a torrent of new public admissions about the artist’s dottiness. Marc Jacobs, in a YouTube advert for Louis Vuitton, mentioned that Kusama is “special” and “charming”; in a meeting with Jacobs, she showed him a Vuitton Ellipse handbag (pricetag $1,470) that she’d covered in hand-painted dots. Artist Steven Heller, too, has revelled in Kusama’s battiness, writing in The Atlantic that even in the 1960s, he “initially mistook [her] as simply crazy.” The Tate has been participating in this saga by screening KUSAMA: Princess of Polka Dots, a new documentary which shows Kusama in a red wig and full-on dot garb.

We expect to see more anecdotes in the months leading up to Kusama’s opening at the Whitney. And all this focus on Kusama’s personal life is bound to bring on two camps of opinion: those who think her craziness is evidence of her genius, and those who think it debases her art into something pithless. Count us in the latter camp. Sure, we may want some mystery, or magic, from art, but we don’t expect or need it from the artist.


Sven May 28, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I still don’t understand the point being made. The fact that she has a mental disorder makes her art pithless? Is Henry Darger, Hugo van der Goes or Van Gogh’s art pithless because they were mentally unstable? 

Bfelsif May 29, 2012 at 7:51 am

I agree with Sven. What is the point? If you don’t think her mental state is relevant, what is the point of this article? If you’re saying that her mental state/persona/personality weakens her work, I call bullshit. I know it’s easier for critics to assume that the new neutered, mfa’d, on-message breed of contemporary professional fine artist is anything more than the latest bullshit marketing front that clever ambitious young creatives put on because that is what is expected of them. However as an artist who works with and around other artists and creative people, I can attest that the endeavor naturally draws the mentally and emotionally unstable type, and this is truth, not some modernist romantic mythology.  And yes I still don’t understand your point, and why all the previous comments were deleted.

Paddy Johnson May 29, 2012 at 10:38 am

Ugh. This is a Disqus issue. We moved servers and we had to move this post from the old server after the fact. We’re trying to fix this.

Corinna is not a fan of Kusama’s work. Some of the weaknesses of her work, only seem exaggerated with the knowledge of her mental condition. The point is that we’ll likely be talking about the artist a lot more than her art thanks to this news. If you follow the link at the end of the article Corinna’s linked to a discussion about the art, not the artist.

Sven May 29, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Kusama is 83 years old. She has had a solid career for what- 60 years? Sometimes her work is lame, sometimes it’s amazing. She is getting a lot of press now, in her 80s, a lot of which shows her eccentricity. I doubt her eccentricity/ mental instability is an act.      I wanted to make a broader point, but, yes this conversation kind of blows imho, so I” just address this point:

 Some of the weaknesses of her work, only seem exaggerated with the knowledge of her mental condition. 

I still don’t get this line of thinking though. If she was a completely rational person with perfect mental acuity, would that make covering a room full of dots more compelling? not to me……

Michael Wenyon May 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Kusama’s mental state and its influence on her work was described by Alexandra Monroe in her essay in the catalog to “Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective”, Center for International Contemporary Arts in 1989, and has been regularly reiterated since then.

Lyle Rexer June 1, 2012 at 10:40 am

Welcome to the wonderful world of “outsider” art,  where the discourse is really muddy.  When Kusama goes up, the whitney will do a panel on art and obsession.  Get ready to haul out those chestnuts!

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