On the occasion of Bergamo Brescia Capitale Italiana della Cultura 2023, one of the oldest municipal palaces in Italy hosts, curated by Stefano Raimondi, the exhibition Yayoi Kusama. Infinito presente that brings Fireflies on the Water, one of the Japanese artist's most iconic Infinity Mirror Rooms from the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, to the upper city.
It all started in a field of flowers
Art and life for Yayoi Kusama are inextricably linked. Born in Japan, in Matsumoto, in 1929, into a wealthy family that had foreseen a precise position in society for her, she began to have auditory and visual hallucinations as a child. As the artist herself has recounted, it all started in a field of flowers: 'There was a blinding light, I was blinded by the flowers, looking around me there was that persistent image, I felt as if I were sinking down as if those flowers wanted to annihilate me'.
From the outset, art proves to be a necessary and therapeutic element to deal with her hallucinations. Her parents, however, do not accept her passion, so much so that her mother destroys her drawings before she can finish them. It is precisely for this reason that one of Yayoi Kusama's first art forms are polka dots, elements that are quick to draw.
She devoted herself to the study of art, despite her family's contrary opinion, was impressed by the paintings of the artist Georgia O'Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz's wife, and decided to write to her. After receiving a reply, Yayoi Kusama moved to the United States in 1958, first to Seattle and then to New York. After initial difficulties in the strongly male chauvinist artistic environment and due to her Japanese origins, she began to make a name for herself. Already in the 1960s, she consolidated her position in the New York avant-garde and was considered a revolutionary for the time.
After achieving worldwide fame, Yayoi Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 and in 1977 she spontaneously checked herself into a psychiatric institution where she still lives today. This has in no way prevented her from renting a studio in front of the hospital, to which she goes every day to paint. During these years she has continued to work, also collaborating with famous fashion brands, and to devote herself to her research, painting pictures and writing novels and poems.
An ambitious exhibition
"The exhibition dedicated to Yayoi Kusama is ambitious and special," explains curator Stefano Raimondi, founder and director of The Blank Contemporary Art, "made possible by an articulated project, which took two years to complete, and by international relations with the Whitney Museum of American Art, undoubtedly one of the most important museums in the world."
The installation, curated by Maria Marzia Minelli, offers an introductory path that delves into Yayoi Kusama's research through poems, films and documentation, creating a space for physical and digital sharing of the experience and allowing us to enter the Japanese artist's imagery from various points of view. At the centre of the exhibition Fireflies on the Water is a room-sized installation designed to be viewed in solitude, one person at a time.
A hallucinatory approach to reality
Elements that create a dazzling effect of direct and reflected light, emanating from mirrors and the water surface. Space appears infinite, without top, bottom, beginning or end. As in Yayoi Kusama's early installations, including the Infinity Mirror Room (1965), Fireflies on the Water embodies an almost hallucinatory approach to reality. Linked to the artist's personal mythology and the process of therapeutic work, the work refers to sources such as the myth of Narcissus and the Japanese landscape.
A transversal artist
"Yayoi Kusama is an artist beloved across generations and audiences, capable of astonishing and surprising, and the Fireflies on the Water room is certainly the most suitable to underline the themes that accompany Bergamo Brescia in the year of the Italian Capital of Culture, which deal with the themes of resilience, care, and finally opening up to a new dimension full of light, energy and boundless possibilities," Raimondi concludes.