Kusama – Infinity

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Heather Lenz

Starring

Yayoi Kusama

Anticipation.

Could it be more than another lightly informative artist profile?

Enjoyment.

Sadly not. But Kusama is a very cool customer.

In Retrospect.

A film about the struggles undertaken by a woman making it in a man’s world.

A short, sharp portrait of the trailblazing Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama, from director Heather Lenz.

Custom-tooled mirror balls spread out on a lawn in Venice; embroidered penis furniture; body-painting and nude collage work; and a mix of lights and mirrors creating the impression of a sprawling infinity. These are just a few of the artistic concoctions made by Japanese iconoclast Yayoi Kusama who is, to quote this functional documentary profile by Heather Lenz, the most successful artist living today.

Her creations still draw adoring throngs to major gallery spaces across the globe, and her brand of colourful, multi-discipline creation is seen by the art world cognoscenti as opening up the medium to the masses. But it wasn’t always the case. The film offers a straight, talking-heads driven biography of Kusama, from her conservative upbringing, to her self-imposed confinement in a Japanese mental institution, all via a mid-century sojourn to break the US market.

She defied expectations of prim and proper women in the post-war period, and her hunger to become an artist made relations with her mother extremely testing. Yet the film is also about how her success was largely the product of her own ingenuity and lack of scruples when it came to self-promotion: she wrote a letter to Georgia O’Keeffe during her formative years as a painter, and received a response suggesting she should hightail it to New York. While there, she made it her personal trademark to tip art world the applecart and try, wherever possible, to muscle in on territory that had been the sole preserve of ageing white males.

Kusama’s insights are fascinating, and the film is at its best when it allows the artist to analyse her own work. Her iconic “infinity net” concept was coined while flying over the Pacific Ocean to the US, and her sprawling, hypnotic painted patterns remain modern masterworks of landscape interpretation. There are all manner of gallery owners and artistic directors on hand to sing her praises, but the film is little more than a polite puff piece which betrays none of the moxie or formal dazzling of Kusama’s own work.

Published 8 Oct 2018

Tags: Heather Lenz Yayoi Kusama

Anticipation.

Could it be more than another lightly informative artist profile?

Enjoyment.

Sadly not. But Kusama is a very cool customer.

In Retrospect.

A film about the struggles undertaken by a woman making it in a man’s world.

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