Yayoi Kusama polka dots take over NGV for blockbuster

The polka dots and oversized pumpkins of Japan's Yayoi Kusama are coming to the National Gallery of Victoria, in one of the biggest exhibitions held by the contemporary art star.

Kusama was born in 1929 and has become one of the world's most successful artists, influencing her contemporaries Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg during the 1960s, and contributing not only to pop art but minimalist and feminist art over almost a century.

The world premiere summer blockbuster show at the NGV will be the 95-year-old artist's largest exhibition held in Australia, and one of the most comprehensive staged globally.

The NGV has worked with the artist and her studio over the past five years to create a legitimately ambitious show, gallery director Tony Ellwood told reporters on Monday.

"We are indebted to Yayoi Kusama for her passion and collaboration on this special project," he said.

"Without the artist’s personal dedication to this exhibition and excitement to share her worldview with Australian audiences, none of this would be possible."

Yayoi Kusama's 'Narcissus Garden (file)
Narcissus Garden is made up of more than 1400 mirrored balls.

Opening in December, the show will feature 180 works installed across the entire ground floor of the NGV International building, and include the unveiling of her most recent immersive infinity mirror room, which is currently being developed.

The ticketed show will span eight decades of Kusama's art, from her childhood in the 1930s, to her years at the forefront of the New York art scene and her current work.

As visitors enter the gallery they will encounter her installation Narcissus Garden from the 1960s, made of more than 1400 stainless silver balls, each reflecting the person looking at it.

It's followed by important examples of the infinity net paintings, monumental canvases filled with intricately painted nets, that Kusama made after moving to New York in 1958.

Another installation on show in Australia for the first time, THE HOPE OF THE POLKA DOTS BURIED IN INFINITY WILL ETERNALLY COVER THE UNIVERSE, is made from six-metre-high tentacles covered in her iconic yellow and black patterns.

The exhibition also includes a new NGV acquisition, the five metre tall polka-dotted Dancing Pumpkin sculpture, which gallery-goers can walk under.

The dots reference Kusama's childhood, when she lived on a small farm and became lost in a field of flowers which began to speak to her, the flower heads resembling dots that became her globally-recognised motif.

“A polka dot has the form of the sun…a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm," she said.

"Round, soft, colourful, senseless and unknowing, Polka dots become movement…Polka dots are a way to infinity.”

Pumpkins, too, are from her past - although Japan's food supplies were disrupted during World War II, the Kusama family's storehouse was full of pumpkins, which she ate until she was sick of them.

The artist has painted their organic and irregular shapes for years, and they came to the forefront of her work in the 1980s and 90s.

Earlier in April, audiences for the NGV Triennial exhibition, which features 100 projects from 120 artists, designers and collectives, surpassed one million, making it one of the most popular in the gallery's history.

Yayoi Kusama opens December 15 at the National Gallery of Victoria.

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