After stumbling upon Kusama’s work in the Reina Sophia Museum in Madrid, I was ecstatic to learn that the Daegu Art Museum was hosting an exhibition of her work. Although the trip to Daegu was primarily for baseball and visiting Gyeongju National Park, I insisted on visiting the museum to see a collection from one of my favorite modern artists. The day was drab and rainy, but despite getting caught in the rain several times, Kusama’s art was as bright as I had remembered.
Born in 1929 in Japan, Kusama has suffered from severe OCD and hallucinations throughout her entire life, a fact with is clearly reflected in her artwork. Though she is no Rembrandt, there is a calculated meticulousness about the repeating patterns that often jump off the canvass. By using tricks of the eyes, her paintings dance and swirl, giving the viewer an unsettling feeling which sometimes leaves them unable to see straight, yet unwilling to look away.
Kusama is well known for her vibrant colors and use of the polka dots as a motif in many of her works. These themes are also displayed to a great extent in the paintings, performance pieces, and elaborate light installations in her current exhibition. The paintings are mainly comprised of works completed in the last 5 years, but her undeniable devotion to color still exists, only this time with a slight African vibe. These works have all been completed on the same large-sized, square canvas, a continuity that creates a sense of order and precision in her otherwise disheveled world.
My favorite thing about the exhibition was the light-fixtures. Kusama enjoys playing with the idea of the infinite, and uses mirrors in several clever ways to create the illusion of never-ending lights. While the “Gleaming Lights of the Souls” on display paled in comparison to the exhibition I saw in Madrid, the installation still expressed a sense of awe and wonder. The small room, lined with mirrors and filled with strings of hanging lights, creates the illusion of a floating universe of colorful, glittering stars.
Another one of my personal favorites was “Narcissus Garden.” Although a rather simple display of chrome spheres in a corner near a window, I found myself mesmerized by the way the different images and shapes were reflected and distorted. I could see my own image cast back to me on 50 silver balls. I, like Narcissus, found myself captivated by my own reflection.
Overall, I found the exhibition to be bright, vibrant, and uplifting, despite the knowledge of Kusama’s rather tortured past. Her artwork was open and inviting with many hands-on pieces, including a room where visitors were invited to cover every available surface with multi-colored dots. Though Kusama was somewhat controversial in her younger days, the art on display at the Daegu Art Museum, with the exception of a phallus boat, was largely kid-friendly. While the idea of kids running around a museum doesn’t usually strike me as a great idea, seeing the looks on kids faces as they stared deep into an infinite light illusion made me happy at the accessibility of Kusama’s art. Imagination is something seriously lacking in many parts of the world, and it is great that artists like Kusama can inspire the generations to come.
The Daegu Art Museum is located off of the Daegu Grand Park (or Daegongwon) subway stop on the green line (line 2). The museum itself is about a 10-minute drive from the subway station, but the museum provides a free shuttle that runs from the station every 30 minutes (:00 and: 30) just outside of exit 5. The bus will also take you back, but the times are a bit different.
If you can’t make it down to Daegu before the exhibition closes on November 3, the exhibition will be in Seoul from May 1st – June 8th of next year.