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The Fermenting Bubbles of Yayoi Kusama

If you run, don’t walk to the Whitney Museum of Art before September 30th, you’ll find yourself at the convergence of inside and out of the mind of Yayoi Kusama, the Polka-Dot Mistress of Japan.  Prolific, inspired, and self-committed since 1977–following a life-time of hallucinations–Yayoi began her artistic explorations on the cellular level, painting images that simultaneously simulate the singular world of a cell, along with its own vast potential.  Much like the strains of saccharomyces cerevisiae that jumpstart a sparkling wine’s fermentation, these images plant a seed whose sprout is determined by your (and the winemaker’s) interpretation.

Yayoi Kusama, The Germ, 1952

Like the natural yeast in a bottle of Pascal Pibaleu Sparkling Grolleau, the early works of Kusama illustrate the paths of life and the potential that resides within the walls of a single cell.  And though the life of a yeast cell comes to an end as the fermentation ceases, its the autolysis–time spent on dead lees–that develops a sparkling wine’s complexity.  By taking her hallucinations and committing them to canvas, Kusama claims to have sustained her own life, which has been sprinkled with thoughts and threats of her life’s ending…

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“…a polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world

and our own living life, and

also the form of the moon, which is calm, round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing.

Polka-dots become movement…polka-dots are a way to infinity.”

– Manhattan Suicide Addict, Yayoi Kusama, 1977

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Following the stages of a secondary fermentation, Kusama’s art took a turn from single cells to bubbling polka-dots, which propelled her forward and into the world, at the speed of a bottle’s disgorgement. Formed in the bottle under pressure beneath the cap, the bubbles in any given bottle of Dirler-Cadé Cremant d’Alsace Brut tickle and dance on the tongue, much like the naked bodies that came to exhibit Kusama’s next movement.  Just as bottles of bubbly are meant to be shared in good company, it was time that Kusama move forward from the insular experience of her polka-dot and Infinity Net paintings, to the public performances of her 1960s hippie-inspired happenings.

Scenes from the happenings of Yayoi Kusama

When the cork pops, bubbles spill out and and evolve in your glass and mouth as a life force breaking down inhibitions and barriers.  Best when poured and passed, a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé brings people together (arms outstretched) faster than a public nudity sighting.  Reaching the limits of her confinement, Kusama burst onto the NYC scene with an injection of her polka-dotted happenings, filling the universe as the mousse occupies your  mouth with dotted bare subjects who performed in the streets and parks.  As impermanent at the contents of your glass, each gesture, embrace and sideward glance, became an expression of the artist.

Click HERE to watch Part 1 of Kusama’s Self Obliteration (1967)

From the streets, Kusama came to occupy natural environments.  With the filming of Self-Obliteration (1967), a hauntingly obsessive (and sometimes silly) expedition into the woods and waters into which she wades, Kusama dots her pathways fueled by a self-proclaimed form of madness as a force that tears at the seams of preconceived notions.  Like CO2 erupting from the lips of the bottle, Kusama transcends the boundaries of our surroundings and physical bodies.  Presiding over Homosexual Wedding (1968) at the Church of Self-Obliteration, Kusama bore witness to an orgy of sorts where performers shed the individual self in favor of union, as an extension of Kusama who spit the pips of fear so what we could inhabit the fruits of her labor.

Still kicking as artist at the age of 83, Kusama, like one glass too many, toys with altering and obliterating our perceptions of reality.

“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 dot, we become part of the unity of our environment.”  Y. Kusama

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