Known for being covered in dots, pieces of Yayoi Kusama’s art are on display in Gropius Bau. I went there a few days ago to immerse myself in the world of vivid colours and never-ending patterns.
For context, it was not the first time I saw her art. Last year, Gropius Bau organized The Garden of Earthly Delights. Kusama’s work was shown in one of the rooms. Everything there from the floor, through statues to the ceiling, was covered with white paint and big polka dots. I thought about how one could just dive into this imaginary world. The artwork surrounded visitors and become the environment. How to react to it? Probably with joy, carelessness, I reckoned. This is what I was expecting to experience this time as well.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
The amount of work shown is massive - drawings, objects, paintings, mirror and light installations. Ordered chronologically, in the first room - painting from when Kusama was in her 20s. You can see the elements that became her signature - flowers, tentacles, dots. What stopped me there was a drawing by a 5 or 6 years old girl. There were people in it and dots. Already.
Yayoi started hallucinating when she was 10 years old. She saw dots and dancing or moving flowers. How scary must it have been to a child?
That drawing gave me goosebumps. It made me think about confusion and fright, maybe embarrassment, she might have felt when the visions started and didn't go away. I realized that the art I would be looking at for the next hour was not about joy, it was about survival. I took a breath of air and decided to move to the next room. I was too uncomfortable to take a photo of the drawing though.
This is art without pause, art without breathing, art without relief. Vivid colours, patterns and big formats make artworks pulsate in front of a viewer’s eyes. Infinite nets never end even if they don’t leave a canvas. Looking becomes unpleasant, tiring, overwhelming.
Tirelessly, Yayomi Kusama has been creating to cope, to calm herself down, perhaps to find relief. But relief is not possible when the dots are present.