This is a great season for exhibitions in Central London! Last weekend, I visited the Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective at the Tate Modern which left me equal parts amazed and puzzled. With a career spanning over 60 years, Yayoi Kusama is considered to be one of Japan’s most important contemporary artists alive today. Born in rural Japan in 1929, she began staging solo exhibitions at a very early age, but became frustrated with the conservative nature of the art world in her homeland. Drawn by the avant-garde work being created in Europe and the US, Yayoi moved to New York in 1957 where she became a recognised figure exhibiting her works alongside artists such as Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Claes Oldenburg. Yayoi Kusama makes use of painting, collage, sculpture, performance art and environmental installations to express and come to terms with her innermost anxieties. These are reflected in her obsession with covering surfaces with polka dots, which has become a trademark of her work.

Dots Obsession, Infinity Mirror RoomCentre Pompidou, Paris, 1998

Obliteration RoomGoMA, Queensland, 2012

It is one thing looking through Yayoi Kusama’s eyes and perceiving these polka dots covering canvases, photographs or objects in endless patterns. The experience changes when she takes us further into her psyche by making us walk into physical spaces filled with dots. One such environmental installation entitled ‘Propagation Room’ has fluorescent multicoloured spots covering the walls, the furniture and everyday objects such as a television set in a living room. Bathed in black light, this piece wants to be more than an aesthetically beautiful experience.

The artist speaking at Tate Modern in front of ‘Yellow trees, 1994’

Propagation Room – Tate Modern, 2012

At the end of the exhibition, one reaches a room which entrance is covered with black curtains and visitors are warned that some people might find the experience disorienting.

Soul under the Moon – Tate Modern, 2012

Soul under the Moon is an installation where walls are covered with mirrors from all sides. The flat spots are replaced by small spherical lightbulbs suspended from the ceiling. They are reflected by the mirrors ad infinitum and one feels suddenly immersed in a boundless space of luminous particles. This is perhaps Yayoi Kusama’s best attempt to make us ‘walk into her mind’ and perhaps have a glimpse of an experience beyond the limitations of physical space. The artist is quoted as saying;

“A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colourful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots can’t stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three polka-dots become movement… Polka-dots are a way to infinity.”

Don’t miss the opportunity to discover the spectacular world of this unique artist at Tate Modern until June 5.