Yayoi Kusama Museum   草間彌生美術館

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The artist Yayoi Kusama

The princess of Polka Dots

2017 was a year of challenges for the 88-year-old avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama. After a major retrospective at the National Art Center in Tokyo and the creation of her foundation, she opened her museum in Shinjuku district; a sumptuous palace for 'Princess of Polka Dots'!

A mirror room full of polka dot pumpkins

Talented but troubled

Born in Matsumoto in 1929, Yayoi Kusama was struck early by auditory and visual hallucinations. In 1935, she began to draw images and perceptions from her hallucinatory experiences, her fears, and anxieties. The recurrent motif of polka dots in her work appeared in 1939; evidence of her deep psychological troubles. This is the starting point of her favorite theme. From 1948, she studied Japanese painting, nihonga, at an art school in Kyoto. Several galleries in Matsumoto and Tokyo were exhibited her work in the early 1950s. A great admirer of the work of the American artist Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986), she decides to leave for the United States in November 1957 and moved to New York the following year. Until 1961, she expressed her visual obsessions by experimenting with monochrome.

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From 1966, her work took a new turn. She produced her first closed environments: spaces which used her own body and were staged in a theatrical way by using mirrors. These representations were called "performed" self-portraits. Defining her concept of "self-obliteration" in her film of the same name in 1967, she used polka dots to cover and hide everything around her. The polka dots obliterated everything, animals and spaces erased of identities, and in this way unified. In this self-effacement, Kusama's idea was to be one with the universe. It was also a period when she organized and participated in outlandish happenings, performances in public in which men and women performed naked, covered in polka dots, and danced in the streets of Manhattan.

Forgotten, and flamboyant return

Back in Tokyo in 1973, three years later she voluntarily entered a psychiatric institution after a suicide attempt, to fight the obsessions that haunt her and overcome the pain of the loss of loved ones. Although continuing to paint, make collages and write, Kusama disappeared from the spotlight. Her work enjoyed a renewed interest in the late 1980s in Japan and internationally. She has since been exhibited all over the world (at the MOMA in 1998, at the Center Pompidou in Paris in 2011...) and is considered one of the world's greatest contemporary artists.

Read also: The National Art Center of Tokyo

Under the sign of infinite love

Open since the 1st October 2017, the Yayoi Kusama Museum, run by a foundation promoting the art of Kusama and delivering the message of peace and love that the octogenarian has stopped transmitting in her works. The opening exhibition entitled "Creation is a solitary pursuit, love is what brings you closer to art" invites you to discover her most recent work; especially paintings from her series "My Eternal Soul" and "Love Forever". The creations are spread over the 5 levels of this brand new building. In addition, you can experience one of her famous "Infinity Mirror Rooms"; an installation specially designed for the museum. Since 1965, Kusama has created about twenty closed environments where mirrors offer the illusion of an infinite space. A 2-minute session allows visitors to experience these spaces in groups of 6 people; an exploration of the infinite! On the last level, a huge golden pumpkin with pink polka dots proudly stands on the terrace.

Mandatory reservation

Due to the limited entry number of spaces for each visit slot (11:00, 12:30, 14:00 and 15:30), you must book your ticket in advance. They are on sale at 10am (Japanese time) on the museum website on the 1st of each month for visits the following month. Your ticket is only valid on the date and time selected, so it's strongly advised that you arrive on time! With a ticket in hand, you'll have 90 minutes to enjoy Yayoi Kusama's universe of infinite love.

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