Yayoi Kusama is one of the most famous Japanese artists right now. Well known for putting colorful polka-dots on every imaginable surface, she has also used lights and mirrors to create her artistic environment, and her naked body has been a canvas, as well as a tool for political protest.
Kusama was born in 1929 and had her first solo show in 1952, but her artwork is still poignantly fresh, speaking innovatively to a younger generation as much as her own. This is made obvious through exhibitions (Tate Modern, London, Whitney Museum, NY), documentaries (expected in 2013), books (see a list below), fashion (Louis Vuitton/storefront windows), an app (it's free), and even a wrapped building at 345 West 14th Street that have all been happening (pun intended) recently.
She studied art in Kyoto, Japan before moving to America in 1957. She rivaled Andy Warhol in New York in the 1960s for popularity and press as her art developed from drawings and paintings, to sculptures and installations, performances, and then happenings. Returning to Japan in 1973, she has been residing in a mental institution while working from a studio across the street for the last 30 years. Kusama has often said her art has developed from hallucinations she has had since she was a child. The polka-dots, phalluses, vibrant colors, nets, and wavy lines that make up her art are also the material of her existence. Now in her 80s, her art has carried her through her illness. She is currently being celebrated in a retrospective exhibition (through September 30, 2012) at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
To learn more about the artist, consider these books and videos:
Infinity Net: the Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama. Translated by Ralph McCarthy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.
Monographs on her work
Yayoi Kusama. Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehata, Udo Kultermann. London, UK : Phaidon, 2000.
Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968. Lynn Zelevansky, Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehata, Alexandra Munroe. New York: Museum of Modern Art: Distributed by D.A.P., 1998.
Also, check out the slideshow of photographs of Kusama at this interactive exhibit from 1998 at the Museum of Modern Art.
Yayoi Kusama Now. [text interview by Damien Hirst with Yayoi Kusama]. New York: Robert Miller Gallery, 1998.
Yayoi Kusama. edited by Frances Morris; with contributions by Jo Applin, Juliet Mitchell, Frances Morris, Mignon Nixon, Rachel Taylor, Midori Yamamura. New York: D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2012.
Yayoi Kusama: I Want to Live Forever. Milano: Federico Motta, 2009.
Critical writings about her work and that of her contemporaries
Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York. Midori Yoshimoto. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005.
Mirror Images: Women, Surrealism, and Self-Representation. Edited by Whitney Chadwick; essays by Dawn Ades ... [et al.]. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.
Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979. Paul Schimmel. Los Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art, New York : Thames and Hudson, 1998.
Reconstructions: Avant-garde Art in Japan 1945-1965: an Exhibition. Organized by the Museum of Modern Art Oxford with the Japan Foundation and the Yomiuri Newspaper Group; [edited by David Elliott and Kazu Kaido]. Oxford [England]: Museum of Modern Art; [New York, N.Y.]: Universe Books, 1985.
Pressplay: Contemporary Artists in Conversation. [interviews by Mark C. Taylor ... [et al.]]. New York: Phaidon, 2005.
Assemblage, Environments & Happenings. Allan Kaprow. New York: H. N. Abrams, .
See/Saw: Connections between Japanese Art Then and Now. Ivan Vartanian. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2011.
Walking in My Mind: Charles Avery, Thomas Hirschhorn, Yayoi Kusama, Bo Christian Larsson, Mark Manders, Yoshitomo Nara, Jason Rhoades, Pipilotti Rist, Chiharu Shiota, Keith Tyson. London: Hayward, 2009.
Yayoi Kusama: I Love Me. Viz Pictures ; Burbank, CA : Distributed in the U.S. by Warner Home Video, 2008.
Watch the trailer for the to-be-released documentary (early 2013) on Kusama: Kusama: Princess of Polka Dots.