The 89-year-old Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama is finally getting her due as one of the greatest living artists in the world.
Having moved to New York just in time for the exploding avant-garde art movement of the 1960s, Kusama was known for her wild “happenings.” She staged large events featuring nude people covered in polka dots, opened a nude painting studio and social club, and once wrote a letter to Richard Nixon offering to have vigorous sex with him if he stopped the Vietnam War.
Yet despite being a darling of New York’s counterculture art scene, Kusama was largely forgotten after moving back to Japan in 1973 for health issues, where she voluntarily took up residence in a hospital for the mentally ill.
Kusama never stopped making art, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that her work began to gain international recognition once again. It has been on a steady upward climb since. Working from the hospital, she sold a piece of artwork in 2008 for $5.1 million, setting a record for the highest price paid to a living female artist.
Fans can now once again experience Kusama’s wild and wonderful work in person, at an installation appropriately entitled “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies.” Installed permanently at the Phoenix Art Museum, the piece uses a 25-foot square space with mirror-lined walls, flooring of polished black granite, a black plexiglass ceiling, and 250 dangling LED lights programmed with alternating color. The effect is ethereal and expansive. Like much of Kusama’s work, your sense of self, space, and time are overwhelmed and nearly obliterated by visual force.
Update as of July 2023: Closed until September 2023.
Know Before You Go
The exhibit is located in the Contemporary Art Wing of the Phoenix Art Museum, just off of North Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix.