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Exhibition Review – Yayoi Kusama @ National Gallery Singapore

Exhibition Review – Yayoi Kusama @ National Gallery Singapore

SINGAPORE – The National Gallery Singapore is currently the host of a colourful exhibition – Yayoi Kusama- Life is the Heart of a Rainbow. This exhibition is not only celebrating an artist who has turned her very own image in the media into a work of art but also the bridge between art and our everyday life. For art fans and those who still have to be convinced, this beautiful and intriguing exhibition is a must see in Singapore.

Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in Japan and her work is characterized by colourful dots, nets and pumpkins. Even before you enter the National Gallery, you can see that something special is currently going on: the pillars are covered in white dots on red background. The whole museum is somehow turned into a colourful event – from the children’s Biennale to dessert resembling the works of Kusama. I have read about the Kusama exhibition – especially because it is now being anticipated in the US and was really excited to get to see it.

“Infinity Nets” are characteristic for Kusama’s work.

The exhibition shows Kusama’s works from the 1950s until the present. Covering her first attempts in the 1950s with her so-called “Infinity Nets”. Kusama was faced with the opposition of her family of becoming an artist. Japan was just recovering from World War II and the atomic bomb. Already then, the red dots that still characterize her work emerged. I found it really interesting to read that Kusama got in touch with Georgia O’Keeffe to show her some works and seek advice and received a positive and encouraging reply. Kusama left Japan for New York City to seek artistic freedom.

Early “Infinity Net” in white

Kusama started painting her “Infinity Nets” on pieces of paper which later expanded to big canvases. These works have no focal point and could be expanded indefinitely. Kusama was influenced be Dadaism and the Surrealists in Japan. Her first solo exhibition in New York showcasing white infinity nets marked the start of belonging to the circle of acclaimed artists.

A Venus statue covered with Infinity Nets

Kusama not only used the nets on two-dimensional paper but also covered sculptures later on in her works.

Pumpkins all over the place – throughout the exhibition, visitors are invited into small rooms to experience space and infinity.

The pumpkin is a motive consistently coming up in Kusama’s work. She started occupying herself with pumpkins when she took nihonga classes (nihonga is a type of traditional Japanese painting). The pumpkin was not only one of the main ingredients of the diet after World War II but also does the artist relate comfort and security with the vegetable. The bright yellow pumpkins with black dots are characteristic for Kusama’s work. However, there are also other dimensions to the pumpkin exhibited in Singapore.  One small room invites the visitors into a world covered in yellow with black dots. The centre of the room is an endless field of pumpkins.

“Mirrors and Infinity” challenges our perception of space.

Another important dimension is Mirrors and Infinity where Kusama tries to challenge our perception of space. After walking through an alley of mirrors, the visitors are invited into another small room – again, it seems to be endless and its light installation changes colour and made me feel like floating in space. Kusama also tries to cause anxiety regarding our existence and annihilation. I just found it really beautiful to be frank.

Another recurring topic is the artists occupation with sexual topics. There is also a room which is only for adults aged over 18 with more delicate content 😉 This dimension can also be seen in her soft sculptures – which are often phallic symbols. Furthermore, these sculptures also stand for the artist’s fight for female empowerment.

Kusama herself curated her image in the media, thereby becoming an artwork herself.

You will pass by a video featuring the artist herself which will give you an insight how Kusama turned her image into an artwork or performance.

“Peep Box” is another example of mirrors leading to infinity.

One of the biggest rooms is covered with 50 black and white canvases. The centre is the peep box “I WANT TO LOVE ON THE FESTIVAL NIGHT”- referencing Kusama’s “Peep Show/Endless Love Show” in the 1960s. You can see yourself and other visitors peeping into the box.

More pumpkins – sometimes the exhibition makes us feel like in fairy tales. It does make us feel like Cinderella here, does it not?

One of the most photographed rooms of the exhibition is “With All My Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever”. This room with white tulips covered in colourful dots which are also referenced on the walls, floor and ceiling merges all the elements within into a whole. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland walking through a garden of giant tulips which might potentially be dangerous. Obviously, this Kusawa aimed at making us feel that way.

Another fairy tale room “With All My Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever” – this time, it made me feel like Alice in Wonderland.

Before leaving the exhibition through a room with hundreds of stainless steel balls, you will pass through “My Eternal Soul”, a project comprising over 500 colourful canvases, some of which are exhibited in Singapore.

“My Eternal Soul” comprises more than 500 canvases, some of which are exhibited in Singapore.

The exhibition polarizes between art and mainstream. I guess it is one of the most Instagrammed exhibitions at the moment. I think it is a great approach to bring more people to the museum. I saw a lot of visitors which would usually not be the typical “art crowd”.

“Life is the Heart of Rainbow” builds bridges between art and mainstream. It is an attempt to build bridges and democratize art. Whether this approach of bringing more people into museums is successful and not leading to people coming for the Instagram-experience rather than the art, remains to be seen.

However, I sometimes had the impression that it was more important for the majority of visitors to get an Instagram-worthy picture rather than thinking about the impact and messages of the artist. But I guess that is a risk that we have to assess in the future.

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Stainless steel balls covering the floor

I personally really enjoyed the exhibition. Make sure to go immeditaley after the NAtional Gallery opens in the morning and book your ticket in advance to jump the queue. Unfortunately, I only had time to visit in the afternoon during the busiest time and had to wait in line for 30 minutes to purchase a ticket. The exhibition was really crowded and unfortunately some people did not really care about other visitors and were quite noisy. Sorry for being harsh, but even though I think that a museum is not a holy grail were we have to be absolutely quiet, I think we should limit our noise to a level that all the other visitors can still enjoy the exhibits.

“Yayoi Kusama – Life is the Heart of a Rainbow” is open daily until 3 September 2017.

National Gallery of Singapore, 1 St. Andrew’s Rd, Singapore (nearest MRT station City Hall; you can reach the museum by bus as well)

Opening times: Sunday to Thurday and Public Holidays: 10 am – 7 pm, Friday, Saturday and Eve of Public Holidays 10 am – 10 pm (last admission 30 minutes before closing time).

Tickets: SGD 15 for Singaporeans/PRs, SGD 25 for Non-Singaporeans (concessions and free entry are available for certain groups). I recommend getting an all-access pass is SGD 30 (for Non-Singaporeans) which includes the Kusama exhibition. The permanent collection of the National Gallery is also worth seeing. (Stay tuned for my Museum Review). Online ticket purchase is highly recommended.

All the information used in the article above is based on the information in the exhibition brochure and the walls accompanying the exhibits and my visit to the museum in July 2017.

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