The Kusama Industrial Complex: How Yayoi Kusama Came to Captivate the World, Fueling Museums and the Market

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Nets Yellow, 1960.COURTESY OTA FINE ARTS, TOKYO/SINGAPORE; VICTORIA MIRO, LONDON; DAVID ZWIRNER, NEW YORK

In mid-April, 91-year-old artist Yayoi Kusama had words for the coronavirus. The pandemic had caused numerous disruptions to her world. The psychiatric hospital where she lives in Tokyo was on lockdown, preventing her from going to work at her nearby studio. Her corporation, KUSAMA YAYOI Co., Ltd., was forced to suspend authentication and registration of artworks. But her statement ignored these inconveniences. Citing her role as “Revolutionist of the world by the Art,” Kusama rallied humanity to fight, and commanded the virus “to Disappear from this earth.” The bold gesture recalled the artist’s open letter to Richard Nixon in 1968, where she proposed an end to the U.S. war in Vietnam in exchange for painting polka dots of Eternal Truth all over the president-elect’s “hard, masculine body.” That plea was read aloud to nude groupies at a Happening in her New York studio. Kusama’s new message of light and love was addressed “TO THE WHOLE WORLD,” and thanks to her massive popularity on social media and the publicists for her global network of galleries—the whole world heard it.

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