Yayoi Kusama Museum
The Yayoi Kusama Museum in Shinjuku, the world’s only museum dedicated to this visual artist, is a fitting tribute to this art world maverick and national treasure.
YAYOI KUSAMA MUSEUM
On Gaien Higashi Dori in northeast Shinjuku Ward’s Bentencho neighborhood, the Kume Sekkei-designed Yayoi Kusama Museum looks like a pillar of sculpted ivory rising from the mostly dun-and-gray-colored cityscape. Over her career, Kusama’s work has been added to the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Tate Modern in London, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, and dozens of other museums across the world—but never before has a single museum been dedicated to her work. The Yayoi Kusama Museum is perhaps the result of the late-career renaissance Kusama has experienced.
Yayoi Kusama Museum / “Starry Pumpkin”
Born in Matsumoto in Nagano, Kusama trained in traditional painting and arts at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts before making a name for herself with abstract work marked by a preoccupation with polka dot pointillism. Kusama fled Japan for the New York scene in the late 1950s, and throughout the 1960s, she was one of the world’s most famous contemporary artists. As her career and mental health declined, she returned to Japan and went into self-imposed exile, followed by stints in mental health facilities. Although her star never really faded in the art world, her profile among laypeople has certainly risen in the past decade, resulting in some interesting pop culture appearances, including a collaboration with Louis Vuitton and an installation at the Ginza 6 department store.
Yayoi Kusama Museum / A Part of Gallery Space
The museum has been a runaway success since its opening in late 2017, and is open from Thursdays to Sundays and National Holidays. Tickets are not available at the door and are sold exclusively online, with sales opening on the first of the month and can be bought for the month after next (i.e. if you plan to visit on October 7th, make sure to get online August 1st at 10am JST). The website for ticket sales is easy to use, although it’s important to remember that the museum’s popularity means that some days and time slots (visitors choose a 90 minute entry period) sell out frequently. The process can seem inconvenient, compared to other Tokyo museums, but it creates a more relaxed atmosphere throughout the museum’s gallery space.
Yayoi Kusama Museum / “PUMPKINS SCREAMING ABOUT LOVE BEYOND INFINITY”
Many come for the pumpkins, and they are not disappointed. The exhibitions are constantly changing, with the exhibition from April to August 2018, titled, ‘Here, Now, I have Reached the Grandest Start of My Life’. The polka-dotted squash of the “Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity” installation, warmly lit from within and surrounded by mirrors that make them appear to stretch out endlessly are just the beginning, with pumpkins in every shade and size cropping up throughout the galleries. The collection extends beyond the work that is most known to the public, including some of Kusama’s early drawings and watercolors and work done in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture in the 1950s.
Yayoi Kusama Museum / Library on the fifth floor
Despite the kitschy impression one might get of Kusama’s work from the Instagram-ready pumpkins, the artist’s life story is harrowing. Her first abstract work was primarily an attempt to capture the hallucinations . At the library on the fifth floor, visitors can sort through literature and photo books covering Kusama’s life and work.
Yayoi Kusama Museum first-floor gift shopfirst-floor gift shop
For some artists, the museum shop can feel a bit crass, but it truly is part of Kusama’s appeal. As early as the late 1960s, Kusama had established a fashion line and hawked her merchandise at Bloomingdale's flagship Midtown Manhattan store. In addition to her collaboration with Louis Vuitton, she also designed a lipstick for Lancôme in recent years. Thus, the museum’s first-floor gift shop, which is full of cleverly designed, unique items, makes sense.
Yayoi Kusama Museum / My Eternal Soul series
No artist in the contemporary art world is more deserving of a museum dedicated to their work. From the stunning building to the temporary exhibitions, the Yayoi Kusama Museum impresses. It’s a fitting tribute to the artist and the corner of the city where she created much of the work on display.
*The content of the article is from April to August 2018 and there is no permanent exhibition.