Kusama Yayoi (1929-present). Born in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Kusama has experienced hallucinations and severe obsessive thoughts since childhood, often of a suicidal nature. She claims that as a small child she suffered severe physical abuse from her mother. Early in Kusama's career, she began covering surfaces (walls, floors, canvases, and, later, household objects and naked assistants) with the polka dots that would become a trademark of her work. The vast fields of polka dots, or "infinity nets," as she called them, were taken directly from her hallucinations.
Kusama left her native country at the age of 27 for New York City, in which she became interested in joining the limelight of that city after years of correspondence with Georgia O'Keefe. During her time in the United States, Kusama quickly established her reputation as a leader in the avant-garde movement. She organized outlandish happenings in conspicuous spots like Central Park and at the Brooklyn Bridge, was enormously productive, and counted Joseph Cornell and Donald Judd among her friends and supporters. But Kusama did not profit financially from her work.
She returned to Japan in ill health in 1973. Her work shares some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop, and abstract expressionism, but she describes herself as an obsessive artist. Her artwork is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content, and includes paintings, soft sculptures, performance art and installations. Kusama is also a published novelist and poet, and has done notable work in film and fashion design.
Yayoi Kusama has exhibited work with Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns. She represented Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993, and in 1998 and 1999 a major retrospective exhibition of her work toured the U.S. and Japan.
Today she lives, by choice, in a mental hospital in Tokyo, where she has continued to produce work since the mid-1970s. Her studio is a short distance from the hospital. "If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago," Kusama is often quoted as saying.