by Debbie Wells
Give me dots, dots and more dots is the theme of the “Give Me Love” exhibit at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. Pop artist Yayoi Kusama’s lifelong obsession with circles is evident in this triple-threat of an exhibition. Her iconic polka dot art is displayed in three parts – colorful paintings, whimsical sculptures and a show stopping one-of-a-kind art installation. Kusama is now acknowledged as one of the most important living artists of Japan.
Who is Yayoi Kusama?
It is hard to believe that this exhibition consists of new work done by the artist, who is now in her eighties. It has the freshness and energy of a person much younger, but as one learns about the life of Kusama, it becomes clear her vibrant art is reflective of her age-defying personal character and the universal love of pop art, color and shape that transcends time.
Born in 1929 in Japan, she moved to the US in her late twenties. There, she began her career as one of New York avant-garde major players, alongside the likes of Andy Warhol, George Segal and Claes Oldenburg. She quickly became associated with the Pop Art movement and was in the forefront of the 1960’s hippie generation. Her art connects to people so well because she gives her dots life with their bright animated colors, changing scale and hypnotic qualities. She even organized “happenings” in which people came and volunteered to have their nude bodies painted with colorful dots!
Some say her interest in round shapes began from her life as a child with her family, who were seed merchants. Kusama herself has described the polka-dot as “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, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement…Polka dots are a way to infinity.”
Over the decades, Kusama has produced a tremendous amount of variations on the circle theme. No matter what the medium, from paintings to writings to film, she expresses herself in an innovative way that is beautiful on the outside and intense when one delves deeper.
Give Me Love exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery
Exploring the exhibition at David Zwirner combines the experience of being passive viewer and then the exciting opportunity to interact and be a part of the art itself. First, our Artful Circle group visited the section of the gallery with Kusama’s paintings. They are all large scale square shaped paintings showcasing swirly shapes dotted with dots of dimensions. The colors are bold, strong and unashamed. There are also patterns of eyes and ameoba-like shapes in the designs. Some are framed with a definitive edge of color and others have no boundary. Each painting grabs one’s attention and lures the viewer to examine all areas and let their eyes dance from one colorful section to another. Although the style is abstract, one cannot help but try to read into each brushstroke and decipher her pictorial language.
Next, we walked to the area in the back of the gallery – a large open white space with oversized pumpkin forms scattered about. As to be expected, each of these approximately 70” tall stainless steel sculptures were adorned with dot patterns. Some of the dots were painted and some were perforated into the metal. The smooth, mirrored surface of the steel was complemented by the dots of pure solid colors. Dreamlike and whimsical, these pumpkins are pure pop art.
Saving the best for last, our Artful Circle group moved to the “Obliteration Room” Housed in a pre-fabricated suburban style home with vinyl siding, front steps and even a welcome mat, it looked oddly inviting within the industrial environment of the gallery. In front of the entrance stood a couple of smartly dressed gallery assistants passing out sticker sheets to every guest. Once we walked up into the one-room building, the whiteness of the room became overwhelming. From bright white walls, ceiling and floor to white furniture and kitchen appliances, it is a blank canvas. On day one of the exhibit, the interior was white. However, with each day passing, more and more sticker dots are added, leading to obliterate the house with color.
Allowing visitors to not only walk into the art installation is only the beginning of the experience. When the gallery assistants handed our group the stickers (each containing about 25 dots of various colors and sizes), they invited everyone to peel the stickers off the sheet and place them anywhere in the room. When finished, they instructed to return the used sheet. It was a lot of fun to watch everyone apply their stickers in different ways. Some randomly placed the stickers all over the room, while others created their own little designs in one area. I even spied some people reaching to put the stickers in unusual spots, such as under the table or as high as they could reach. The result was a colorful blitz filled with dots and smiles on every face.
As Kusama has explained in the past, once the dots overpower an area, they engulf all that is around it. This “Obliteration Room” epitomizes this concept by showing the interior of the home whose elements lose their identity as a chair, table or desk, etc. as the dots take over day by day. By the time the exhibition is over in June, there will probably be no trace of anything but dots.
Dot by dot, Yayoi Kusama continues to express herself through many mediums. Kudos to David Zwirner Gallery for allowing us to experience her art on so many different levels and making it a memorable and thoroughly enjoyable art encounter.
Photo Credits: Cover Photo from David Zwirner Gallery.
All Other Photos by Debbie Wells
Yayoi Kusama, Give Me Love May 9-June 13, 2015 David Zwirner Gallery 525 W 19th Street, NYC