Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 02, 2018 5:05 pm 
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Delayed recognition?

Kusuma: Infinity is the modest title of this little documentary. Why had I never heard of her? She's the most famous and most popular female artist in the world, now. (Who was before?) She's a rock star. Her name is Yayoi Kusama, and she comes from a little town in Japan, Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture. Her entire life was an enormous struggle but she was enormously ambitious and productive and, well, pushy. And crazy too - that's part of the struggle, because she has suffered from depression and now, for some time, has been living in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital, as she has for over forty years, but working in a big studio in the daytime. Back in Matsumoto, which rejected her as too radical, while she rejected it as too provincial, she is now accepted as the big local art treasure. In Tokyo, there is a museum devoted to her. But is having major recognition elsewhere too. Major retrospectives of her work have been presented at Tate Modern in London (2012) and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington (2017).

Artistic fame is a funny thing. And when it becomes massive, it ceases to be a critical asset and becomes more of a liability. The thousands waiting around the block to see Kusama's shows today, like the crowds lining up to look at shows by Andrew Wyeth (depicted in an admiring documentary I reviewed last week), whose immense popularity only makes the artistically discerning more suspicious than they were already. Kusama is, of course, remote in style from Wyeth. Unlike him, she fulfills Irish design master Eileen Gray's requirement that an artist must only be of her own time. She is of her time, very much so. When things subside we can look back and see if she seems to have been a master. Right now, she seems like a messier, more childlike kind of Anish Kapoor. There seems little depth in her work. She makes Wyeth's seem profound, personal, and evocative. Still, she is of her time. But this little documentary provides too limited a picture of her complicated life and immense productivity, and too little critical analysis of her work.

[For my full review see the ART writing section of this site: HERE.

Kusama participatory installation "Obliteration Room," with dots attached by thousands of museum visitors, Tate Modern, 2012.

See the the online timeline (unrelated to the film), YAYOI KUSAMA: LOOK NOW, SEE FOREVER.

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama at Tokyo Bay, 1993 /
Photograph: Yuichi Hiruta / Image courtesy: Ota Fine
Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio inc.

Kusama: Infinity, 80 mins., Heather Lenz's first feature, debuted at Sundance Jan. 2018. It also showed at Cleveland. Its US theatrical release is set for 7 Sept. 2018. It opens at the Landmark Embarcadero, San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck, Berkeley on 14 Sept.


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