Kusama at the Whitney (a belated post from Hungary)

Note: I meant to send this before I left for Hungary, and then have a fresh start about Hungarian art…but here this draft is, sitting and waiting to be published. So…

Self-Portrait, 1972. Collage with pastel, ballpoint pen, and ink on paper.

Yayoi Kusama courted and received a lot of attention in New York in the 1960s for her truly groundbreaking and unique work. It’s how the Whitney Museum of American Art can justify having the Japanese artist’s retrospective on view, despite her having lived most of her life in Japan, as she still does today. Kusama has her trademark polka dot works up, supported by some works from the beginning of her career, documentation about her activities in the 60s in New York, and a final roomful of her most recent paintings, all atop each other like the inside of a Kusamaesque Rubik’s cube.

The exhibition allows you to see how themes develop in her career–her initial white dot paintings become dots she paints on people to “obliterate” them, which becomes the undulating patterns of her paintings in the 2000s. She also returns to soft, abstract sculptural forms reminiscent of the body and of Louise Bourgeois, at multiple points.

Man Catching the Insect, 1972. Collage with oil on paper.

Her collage works, two examples of which are shown here, don’t fit as neatly into these patterns. They aren’t as clean and graphic design-y as her current works, but I found them as strong as anything else in the show. The more literally evoke Surrealism and the exploration of consciousness, but they do it in a very Kusama (note the polka dots) and very accomplished way. They are one of the rare times her obsessive attention to detail combines with recognizable imagery. Kusama is notoriously and publicly of a “fragile mental state,” to quote the artist herself, and these works show again how that mental instability plays into and feeds her artistic production.

In the Archives: Lowell Boyers

Red Boat, White Paint, Still Travelling, 2010

Going through my drafts archives, I found this unposted image of a Lowell Boyer’s painting. More of the artist’s mixed media works on paper and canvas can be found on his website, all a bit phantasmagorical, beautiful layered, even decorative like a China pattern gone wrong. I believe I saw this at the Von Lintel Gallery’s booth at an art fair last year…but much like the figures in these works, the memory is unclear.

Cy Twombly’s Sculptures (Cont.), at MoMA

Installation View

Continuing from the small exhibition of Twombly sculptures at the Art Insitute, MoMA has dedicated a small space to showing the late artist’s sculptures as well, which (joy!) I saw over the weekend. Perhaps simply in relief to the garishly colorful, incredibly large deKooning exhibition, looking at these seven white constructions felt like an oasis of calm.

Untitled (Jupiter Island), 1992. Wood, plaster, plastic leaves, wire, cloth, sand, and paint.

I’m not sure how clear it is in these photos, but the white stood out beautifully from the blue night outside the window. The roughness of the bottom contrasts with the smooth vertical white shape with its unexpected dip at the top.

Untitled (Funerary Box for a Lime Green Python). 1954. Wood, palm leaf fans, house paint, cloth, and wire.

The delicacy of the fans make this my favorite of these works. It’s the earliest sculpture shown, and the fanciful description he gives the title disappears in most of his later works.

Untitled (Lexington), 2005. Plaster, paint, wood, cardboard, metal, paper, cloth, twine, and pencil

Although I say they are white, in his later works Twombly began adding a dash of bright color. Here the very tip is a bright pink. I love the balancing act implied by the varying degrees of narrowness of the different objects.

Untitled (Lexington) from a different angle.