Inventing the Singular
An examination of Yayoi Kusama's work that goes beyond the usual biographical interpretation to consider her place in postwar global art history.
Yayoi Kusama is the most famous artist to emerge from Japan in the period following World War II. Part of a burgeoning international art scene in the early 1960s, she exhibited in New York with Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Claes Oldenburg, and other Pop and Minimalist luminaries, and in Europe with the Dutch Nul and the German Zero artist groups. Known for repetitive patterns, sewn soft sculptures, naked performance, and suggestive content, Kusama's work anticipated the politically charged feminist art of the 1970s. But Kusama and her work were soon eclipsed by a dealer-controlled art market monopoly of white male American artists. Returning to Japan in 1973, Kusama became almost as famous for her self-proclaimed mental illness and permanent residence in a psychiatric hospital as she was for her art. In this book, Midori Yamamura eschews the usual critical fascination with Kusama's biography to consider the artist in her social and cultural milieu. By examining Kusama's art alongside that of her peers, Yamamura offers a new perspective on Kusama's career.
Yamamura shows that Kusama, who came of age in totalitarian wartime Japan, embraced art as an anticonformist pursuit, seeking a subjective autonomy that resulted in the singular expression of her art. Examining Kusama's association with European and New York art movements of the 1960s and her creation of psychedelic light-and-sound “Happenings,” Yamamura argues that Kusama and her heterogeneous peers defied and undermined various pillars of modernity during the crucial transition from the modern nation-state to global free-market capitalism.
The art market rediscovered Kusama in the 1990s, and she has since had a series of high-profile exhibitions. Recounting Kusama's story, Yamamura offers an incisive, penetrating analysis of postwar art's globalization as viewed from the periphery.
Hardcover$31.95 T ISBN: 9780262029476 256 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 4 color illus., 44 b&w illus.
The strength of this book however lies in its elucidation of the broader artistic context and social politics of Kusama's work, revealing heretofore understudied aspects of art in the international arena since 1945. Yamamura has produced perhaps the most significant scholarship on Kusama to date, making Yayoi Kusama: Inventing the Singular required reading for any study of the artist.
Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas
Midori Yamamura's riveting, rigorously researched book on Kusama is a refined, comprehensive intellectual and social history that grounds the artist in the pre- and post-WWII history of Japan to establish the discordant roots of her nonconformist, feminist predisposition and skill at self-promotion. In this very fine portrait of Kusama, Yamamura situates the artist in the overlapping, intertwining international Japanese, European, and American avant-gardes of the late 1950s and 1960s, seeking to rescue the artist from the near ubiquitous attention to her psychological states. Yamamura's examination of Kusama's aesthetic and cultural context is certainly the definitive work on the artist to date.
France Family Professor of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, Duke University
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in Kusama's remarkable body of work. Insisting on the centrality of politics over and against more conventional biographical readings, Midori Yamamura has produced a wholly original and provocative account, while never once losing sight of the unique specificity of Kusama's strikingly singular practice.
University of York, author of Eccentric Objects: Rethinking Sculpture in 1960s America and Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field
Midori Yamamura has written a highly detailed, readable account of the central role that Yayoi Kusama played in the development of Pop Art and Minimalism. Kusama was one of the first artists to use serial images, make soft sculptures, and incorporate industrial materials and processes into her work. Her influence on artists as diverse and important as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and Eva Hesse has largely been a matter of rumor. This indispensable book goes a long way toward setting the record straight.
Professor in Critical Studies, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University