Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kusama @ Ayala Museum: Hallucinating about Polka Dots, Pumpkins and Protrusions

Ayala Kusama Exhibit - Venus Obliterated
Kusama's The Statue of Venus Obliterated by Infinity Net
It's hard not to feel any strong stirring of emotions when you witness the art of Yayoi Kusama.  In the words of avid art collector Kim Camacho, Kusama's works are "exuberant", "wild", and "full of life".  I agree but would like to add "provocative", "playful", and "vibrant' to the fray.   Prior to the "I Love Kusama" exhibition, which opens as of this writing, at the Ayala Museum, my acquaintance with Kusama is a rather vague memory of her collaboration with fashion designer Marc Jacobs in 2011 for a line of Louis Vuitton products (fashion admittedly being not included in my inclinations or interest).  But seeing the over 200 pieces of original and commercial art on display at the Ayala Museum made me an instant fan.

Granted that her work evokes strong reactions and emotions, personally, the most surprising thing about Kusama is her longevity, how she remains relevant, nay even fashionable as evidenced by the Vuitton partnership, to this day.  She's now 84 but her works, the older ones included, feel fresh and provocative even to a seemingly overly-Facebooked, Instagrammed and Twittered generation.  Hard to imagine that her popularity took off in the 1950s and 60s when Minimalism, Feminism and Pop Art were the prevailing movements and here we are, 13 years into the new millennium and Kusama's art still has the energy to surprise and captivate.
Ayala Kusama Exhibit - Death of a Nerve Detail
Death of a Nerve, installation, 1976
Mariles Gustilo, Senior Director of Ayala Foundation's Arts and Culture Division, voiced a description of Kusama's art that echoed throughout the launch -- "a hallucination of dots". Kusama's use and interpretation of dots provide creative/whimsical/witty expression of her obsession with life/death (Death of a Nerve, installation, 1976), anguish (Lady with a Bird, self-portrait in the aftermath of the artist's separation from Joseph Cornell and subsequent return to Japan), annihilation (Statue of Venus Obliterated by Infinity Net) and of course, sexuality (Sex Obsession diptych, the phallus dress and chair as the most prominent, pun intended, examples).
Ayala Kusama Exhibit -Vuitton Bag
Kusama-inspired Louis Vuitton Handbag against the backdrop of Sex Obsession
Chancing upon Ms. Kim shortly after the launch ceremonies, I asked her what is her favorite piece among her "bodega" (warehouse) full of Kusama art, she points to "Death of a Nerve" (1976 installation).  "There's nothing like it anywhere in the art world," she says.  Crafted from over a hundred meters of fabric, to me it looks like an intricate web of nerve bundles twisting this way and that, hanging from the ceiling and crawling on the walls, as if to wrap the viewer in a surreal embrace.  On the other hand, Kusama's most significant artwork according to Kim is the 1992 acrylic on canvas diptych, "Sex Obsession", evoking the coming together of serpentine creatures, twisting and writhing in a sensual coupling.

The watercolor pieces (circa 1978-81) are also some of the Camachos' favorites, owing to the fact that the medium clearly shows the artist's masterful hand, according to Ken Esguerra, Ayala Museum's Senior Curator and Head of Conservation.  Hmmm, the volume of people during the launch prevented me from perusing these so that gives me an incentive to come back to do a more leisurely appreciation session (my idea of museum visits is to come when it's near-empty and let the pieces "talk" to me instead of the wholesale kind of art gawking; I'm sure Yayoi Kusama will agree).
Ayala Kusama Exhibit -Pumpkins
The omnipresent dots on yellow pumpkins
The timing of the exhibition is perfect as July is the Philippines-Japan friendship month and what better way to celebrate than to launch the museum's Collectors Series exhibition program with a Kusama exhibition which, according to Mariles, took more than a year to undertake.  That some, if not most, of the finest art are tucked in private collections is a given, it is understandable for Ayala Museum to head towards this direction, digging into the treasure troves of the country's leading art and antiquities collectors and showcasing selected pieces not usually seen by the public to help expand the understanding and appreciation of local and international art.  I sure look forward to more of this kind of peek- into-private-collections exhibitions in the near future.
Ayala Kusama Exhibit - Kusama Portrait
Yayoi Kusama in vivid colors (and dots, but of course)
Info: The I Love Kusama exhibit runs from July 16 to September 1, 2013 at the Ayala Museum, Makati City.  It features the private collection of avid art lovers and collectors, Lito and Kim Camacho and is presented through the support of Japan Foundation-Manila.  

As part of the museum's efforts to educate the art fans and public, Akira Tatehata, one of the world's foremost experts on Kusama and curator of the Japanese Pavilion during the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993, has been invited to give a one-time lecture on August 10, 4PM at the museum ground floor lobby.   A film screening of "Kusama Self Obliteration" and "I Adore Myself: Near Equal Kusama Yayoi" will be held on the evening of August 22 (time to be announced).

For details, call 757-7117 to 21, visit www.ayalamuseum.org or email museum_inquiry@ayalamuseum.org • Museum hours, 9AM - 6PM (Tuesday to Sunday) • Click here for location map.

Interesting reading for the Kusama-inclined:  The Long, Strange Art and Life of Yayoi Kusama from the Hyperallergic site

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