Yayoi Kusama began painting since she was young despite strong objections from her family and the restraints of the conservative climate of the Japanese society at the time. She yearned for an environment in which she could have more freedom. In 1957, her wish was granted when she went to the United States, first to Seattle and then to New York where she settled the following year. Opportunities were abound in Post-War New York which was one of the most progressive art centres in the world; even so, many artists remained undiscovered and eventually sank into obscurity. Kusama faced the challenge of a language barrier in her earlier years, as well as struggling with the high cost of living. She faced additional difficulties as Asian woman in an art circle that was largely dominated by white men. Nevertheless, these seemingly insurmountable obstacles did not deter her from becoming an artist.
Kusama hosted her first solo exhibition at the Brata Gallery in 1959. Her critically acclaimed Infinity Net series helped her garner support from artists such as Andy Warhol and Donald Judd. Judd began collecting Kusama's works at this first exhibition, later writing, “Yayoi Kusama is an original painter. The expression transcends the question of whether it is Oriental or American. Although it is something of both[…] it is not at all a synthesis and is thoroughly independent.”
Kusama debuted her installation work in 1963. She covered a 10-foot boat with closely packed white ovoid forms. The walls and ceiling surrounding the boat were covered with 999 photographs of the boat itself. (Fig. 1) Entitled Aggregation – One Thousand Boats Show, this dizzying effect in the space ushered in a new mode of expression in installation art. Kusama recalled in her autobiography:
"A few years later, when Andy1 papered the ceiling and walls at the Leo Castelli Gallery with silkscreen posters of a cow’s face, it was plainly an appropriation or imitation of my One Thousand Boats Show.”
During the 16 years Kusama spent in the United States, she built her career with painting the Infinity Net series and established the use of polka dots and nets as her signature iconography. After she returned to Japan in the early 1970s, she focused her efforts on literature and writing. It was not until the late 1980s that she returned to visual arts in full force. During this period, she painted organic imagery on large scale polyptychs. Painted in 1991 to 1992, Cloud Considering (Lot 6) belongs to this important period. Kusama constructed a space beyond reality with her iconic polka dots - not a sliver of the canvas’s surface is left untouched by this omnipresent visual treatment.
The rope - like structures in Cloud Considering are composed of countless polka dots that vary in size. The strands of circles appear like squirming microorganisms teaming under the lens of a microscope. As these micro-organisms multiply infinitely, their amorphous forms perfectly echo the nebulous quality of clouds. Examples of using micro - organisms as representation of natural phenomena are expressed in Kusama's early works. (Fig. 4) To Kusama, these tiny polka dots also symbolise the boundless universe. She once said, “I wish to control these dots, so that I may measure the infiniteness of the universe from where I am. I wonder how deep do the mysteries of universe go. At the edge of the infinite universe, will there be more infinity?” also musing, “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.” Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, a contemporary of Kusama, also incorporated arrays of magnified Ben-Day dots into his works. His inspiration was drawn from the printing process and its emotionless and mechanical nature. On the contrary, the hand-painted polka dots of Kusama's Cloud Considering, with their small imperfections, emanate a vitality that demands singular attention. Starting with a single dot, Kusama encompasses deep contemplation on the individual, nature, and the universe in this masterful work.
Yayoi Kusama has always been interested in fashion. In recent years, she has been photographed frequently standing next to her works while wearing an outfit that mirrors its pattern. In 1968, Kusama once owned a fashion label under her own name which had a retail location and presence at Bloomingdale's in the “Kusama Corner” where her progressive fashion designs were displayed. 40 years later, Yayoi Kusama is taking over the fashion world again in an unprecedented scale. When the Whitney Museum in New York hosted a large retrospective exhibition for Kusama in 2012, the internationally renowned luxury brand Louis Vuitton collaborated with the artist to produce a series of accessories. Marc Jacobs, the artistic director at the time, was an art lover and was deeply moved by Kusama’s creative power. Besides collecting her works, Jacobs was determined to invite her to collaborate, “[…] there’s very much this Vuitton monogram and the spots from Kusama and to me both of them are endless but timeless and forever.” The charisma of Kusama's polka dots is not limited to traditional media. It merges seamlessly into our lives and popular culture. Even the architecture of the luxury brand's flagship location on New York’s 5th Avenue was “obliterated” by Kusama; the black and white polka dots that are similar to those in Cloud Considering ascended the walls like twisting vines, creating a spectacular sight to behold.
It has been half a century since Yayoi Kusama's polka dots made their debut, and yet looking at them from a contemporary perspective today, they still appear bold and progressive. Cloud Considering is not only a testament to Kusama’s talent, but it is also a poem that celebrates her enthusiastic approach to life.
1 Kusama refers to Andy Warhol's Wallpaper and Clouds exhibition shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery on April 4th, 1966. The installation picture of this work can be seen in the book Yayoi Kusama, Phaidon Press, 2000. (p. 56)]