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Infinite Influence

What role does Kusama’s art play in contemporary culture?

Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine pop culture without social media. Many people have access to a camera and a place to share their photos right in their pocket. Traditionally, people visit museums to quietly contemplate art hanging on walls, often next to signs that read no photos please. But today people are lining up for art experiences in which viewers interact with the work—even becoming a part of it.

“I wanted to start a revolution, using art to build the sort of society I myself envisioned,” Kusama once said. Through creating art experiences, the artist has become a pop culture icon. In the past six years, more than 6 million people have seen her work in person. Fans have tagged her work on social media more than 300,000 times. Kusama’s story and her art have transformed her into a cultural influencer and a commercial success.

Today, it’s hard to imagine art without social media. Visiting museums to look at art hanging on walls is tradition. In a lot of museums, you aren’t allowed to take photos. Now some artists, including Kusama, create art experiences that viewers are encouraged to photograph and share on social media.

“I wanted to start a revolution, using art to build the sort of society I myself envisioned,” Kusama said. She has created art experiences that many people love. Kusama’s story and work have made her a famous artist and a cultural influencer.

Wax figure of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Louis Vuitton Maison on Fifth Avenue, July 10, 2012, New York City. Photo credit: Rob Kim/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

What motifs does Kusama use in her fashion designs?

Icon on Display

Believe it or not, the image above doesn’t show Kusama posing in one of her installations. You’re looking at a photo of a hyperrealistic wax figure depicting the artist in a storefront window display in New York City. In 2012, Kusama collaborated with French designer brand Louis Vuitton to develop a fashion line. Together they designed high-end clothing and accessories covered in the artist’s iconic polka-dots.

Louis Vuitton commissioned artists to make a lifelike wax sculpture of Kusama. Dotted tentacles, a motif Kusama uses often, surround the eerie figure, and graphic dots cover nearly every surface. People of many different walks of life stopped on the Manhattan sidewalk to take in—and photograph—the display.

Look at the image above. That’s not Kusama posing in one of her works. It’s an extremely realistic wax figure made to look like her! The photo shows a window display for a clothing store in New York City. In 2012, Kusama worked with the French clothing brand Louis Vuitton to create fashion designs. Together they designed clothes and accessories covered in Kusama’s famous polka-dots.

Louis Vuitton hired artists to make a lifelike wax sculpture of Kusama. It’s surrounded by polka-dotted tentacles, an image Kusama uses in a lot in her work. People of many different backgrounds stopped to take pictures of the display.

Yayoi Kusama, Love Flies up to the Sky, 2019. 93rd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo credit: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Macy’s Inc.; Image courtesy of Amanda DeNatale.

What makes Kusama’s balloon a monumental artwork?

Patterns on Parade

Kusama always attracts large audiences. In 2019, she designed a balloon, pictured above, for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, an event that millions watch in person and on TV. The balloon is part of the Blue Sky Series, a program in which balloon designers collaborate with artists to transform their work into balloons. Kusama was the first woman to create a balloon for the Blue Sky Series.

Kusama titled her monumental balloon Love Flies Up to the Sky. Each tentacle-like form is an individual balloon that the Macy’s team painted by hand and attached to the face. At 34 feet tall, or as high as a three-story building, the massive work requires a team of at least 20 people to handle it during the parade.

Kusama’s work reaches large numbers of people. In 2019, she designed a gigantic balloon, pictured above, for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Millions watch the event in person and on TV.

Kusama titled her monumental balloon Love Flies Up to the Sky. Each tentacle is a single balloon. The Macy’s team painted them by hand and attached them to the face. The whole work is 34 feet tall, or as high as a three-story building. It takes a team of at least 20 people to manage the balloon during the parade.

Frank Stella (b. 1936), Harran II, 1967. Polymer and fluorescent polymer paint on canvas, 10x20ft (304.8x609.6cm). Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift, Mr. Irving Blum, 1982. Accession #82.2976. © 2020 Frank Stella / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo credit: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times.

The Scholastic Art editors, Katie, right, and Amanda, left, strike a pose for a selfie in one of Kusama's Infinity Rooms in 2017.

For the ’Gram

Many art enthusiasts see Kusama’s Infinity Rooms as not-to-miss art events. Viewers obtain tickets and wait in lines—usually for hours—to explore the artwork for an allotted amount of time—usually only a minute or two. Many take selfies of themselves engaging with the work, showing their followers they were there, and sharing the fleeting experience with anyone who might have missed it.

In 2017, a gallery in NYC presented the Infinity Room shown above. The artist’s team suspended stainless steel balls from the ceiling and arranged them in clusters on the floor. Visitors explored the space as their own reflections repeated in the seemingly infinite space.

Kusama creates immersive art experiences meant for anyone to photograph and everyone to enjoy. Look closely at the works shown here. What do you think your role is as the viewer?

To many, seeing a Kusama Infinity Room is a big event. Viewers get tickets and wait in lines for hours. They’re usually allowed in the space for only a minute or two. Many take selfies to share on social media. They show friends they were in an Infinity Room and share the experience with people who missed it.

In 2017, a gallery in NYC hosted the Infinity Room shown above. Kusama’s team hung stainless steel balls from the ceiling and arranged them on the floor. Visitors explore the space and see their endless reflections in the mirrors and steel balls.

Kusama creates art experiences meant for anyone to enjoy. What do you think your job is as the viewer?

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