This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



Yayoi Kusama, “Self-Obliteration (Net Obsession Series),” photocollage on paper, ca. 1966

Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Ave. at 75th St.
Sunday, September 30, $18, 11:00 am - 6:00 pm
yayoi kusama in new york slideshow

Today’s your last chance to see the Yayoi Kusama retrospective at the Whitney, but you shouldn’t worry too much if you end up missing it, as curator David Kiehl has somehow made the New York edition of this traveling show remarkably dull. Born in Matsumoto, Japan, in 1929, Kusama moved to New York City in 1957, gaining prominence as a leader in the avant-garde movement through her painting, sculpture, mirror/infinity rooms, and wild happenings. The chronological exhibit begins with such early, more primitive canvases as “Lingering Dream,” “Flower Bud,” and “The Woman,” which only hint at what is to come. The most successful parts of the show feature Kusama’s late-1950s hallucinatory Infinity Net paintings and soft Accumulation sculptures, in which she created a luxurious alternate reality of clothing, furniture, luggage, and other accessories, as well as the photocollages, posters, and twenty-four-minute film associated with her “Self-Obliteration” obsession of putting dots everywhere. In addition, the Whitney has brought back Kusama’s walk-in “Fireflies on the Water” installation, in which individuals get sixty seconds alone in a room of lights, mirrors, plexiglass, and water that seemingly goes on forever. (“Fireflies,” previously displayed at the 2004 Biennial, continues through October 28; be sure to pick up a timed ticket when you enter the museum.) Unfortunately, Kusama’s more recent work, including her acrylic paintings, lack the excitement and originality of much of her previous work, and Kiehl’s decision to focus on all aspects of her career in fairly equal doses makes the show feel less important than it should be. There was more life in the fanciful window displays dedicated to Kusama at the Louis Vuitton flagship store on Fifth Ave., as well as the red and white “Guidepost to the New Space” ladybug-like sculptures along Pier 45 in Hudson River Park and the large “Yellow Trees” billboard on West Fourteenth St. at Ninth Ave. However, there is a lot to be learned about Kusama — who has voluntarily lived in a psychiatric institution since 1977 — in one Whitney gallery that contains letters, photographs, historical information, and other personal paraphernalia, but the works on view just don’t do justice to such an influential and important twentieth-century artist.

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