Better late than never, some thoughts on the new Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern…
I first encountered Japanese artist Kusama’s gloriously wacky artwork in the Hayward’s group show Walking in My Mindback in 2009 and was instantly struck by its colourful eccentricity. But the Tate exhibition proves there’s much more to Kusama than the distinctive polka-dot installations for which she is best known. Starting with her early works, the exhibition traces her artistic development chronologically through the 50s, 60s and 70s, following her from rural Japan to the heart of the New York art scene. The work here is incredibly varied, ranging from semi-abstract works on paper influenced by traditional Japanese artwork to trippy films of 1960s art ‘happenings’. If one thing is clear from these early works, it’s how quick Kusama was to absorb contemporary influences, continually reinventing her work and finding new directions in response to other artists and their works.
Since 1977, Kusama has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric institution in Japan, marking something of a turning point. From here onwards, her practice seems more consistent, and we encounter works that might seem more familiar – from her soft, sculptural forms to the dizzying polka-dotted domestic space, I’m Here But Nothing. This is work that is vibrant, unexpected and often very enjoyable, yet the final installation Infinity Room – a disorientating, darkened, mirrored space which we must pass through before leaving the gallery – makes it quite clear that Kusama’s work is about more than entertaining eccentricity and jaunty coloured spots. Ultimately, this is work which challenges our perceptions of mental illness, exploring the ways that art can begin represent the disturbing experiences of psychological trauma, neurosis and obsession.
Managed to pop into Hales Gallery today to catch the final day of Laura Oldfield Ford‘s show, ‘Transmissions from a Discarded Future’. Oldfield Ford’s delicate, yet bitingly political ballpoint drawings of mundane scenes of abandoned housing estates, deserted tower blocks, derelict shopping arcades, advertisements and tall billboard posters are hugely powerful and distinctive. Taking their cue from the August riots, they fizzle with anger, casting a new light on the forgotten corners of the urban landscape.
[Images: Transmissions from a Discarded Future #1, 2011, Ink on Tyvek, 239.5x169cm and Transmissions from a Discarded Future #1, 2011, Ink on Tyvek, 239.5x169cm by Laura Oldfield Ford, via Hales Gallery]
It’s always so difficult to choose my favourite exhibitions of the year, and this year particularly so as there were many that I missed that I would like to have seen. But after some deliberation, and in keeping with tradition, here are my top five for 2011:
Right at the beginning of the year I saw Algerian filmmaker Philippe Parenno’s memorable solo show at the Serpentine. Parenno transformed the gallery with this atmospheric, immersive and magical exhibition (complete with fake snow blowing past the gallery windows) to provoke a lovely sense of childlike wonder.
At the beginning of this year, I don’t think I would ever have guessed that an exhibition from that overexposed YBA-er and friend of the Tories Tracey Emin would make it onto my ‘top five’ list. But the Hayward Gallery’s rich, varied and well-curated retrospective of her career took me by surprise, and gave me the opportunity to rediscover her sometimes jaunty, sometimes irreverent, often uncomfortable but always engaging body of work.
Another thumbs up for the Hayward comes in the shape of this solo exhibition by Pipilotti Rist, one of my favourite artists. My expectations for this exhibition were especially high, but although it wasn’t perhaps quite everything I wanted it to be, it certainly delivered all the quirky, unexpected joyfulness I’ve come to expect from Rist’s delightful work.
I always enjoy Tate Britain’s exhibitions, but Susan Hiller’s solo show earlier this year was a real stand-out for me. I wasn’t hugely familiar with Hiller’s work before, but found the artworks in this show intriguing, intelligent and thought-provoking: from her anthropological collections of everything from seaside postcards to bottles of holy water; to the powerful installation Witness (pictured), full of wonder and strangeness.
It’s an installation rather than a conventional exhibition, but my top choice for 2011 has to be fashion designer and artist Yohji Yamamoto’s extraordinary site-specific installation at the Wapping Project. Making Waves saw the Boiler House space flooded with dark rippling water, which visitors could cross in a small rowing boat, allowing them to take a look at the beautiful oversized silk wedding dress suspended above it. Mesmeric, meditative and eerily beautiful, this installation was also hugely fun – an enchantingly playful response to the gallery space.
Finally (and because I like cheating) here are a couple of extras…
A special mention must also go to Dark Matters at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester for one of my favourite works of the year – ‘Still Life No. 1′, an enchanting new commission by the collective Brass Art, as part of Asia Triennial Manchester 2011.
And of course I can’t possibly finish off my review of the year without briefly mentioning the Booktrust Best New Illustrators 2011 exhibition, organised by yours truly, which features the work of 10 fantastic up-and-coming illustrators like Katie Cleminson whose work is below. It’s been everywhere from London Book Fair to Plymouth Art Gallery & Museum, the Free Word Centre to the National Galleries of Scotland this year, but it can currently see as part of Picture This at Gallery Oldham.
It’s actually quite interesting looking over all the exhibitions you’ve seen in a year: on reflection, I realise that without particularly meaning to do so, I’ve ended up seeing mainly the big ‘blockbuster’ shows at London’s biggest and best known galleries. My resolution for 2012 is to see more exhibitions at smaller, less well-known galleries and artist-led spaces.
Do you have any arts or cultural resolutions for 2012? And what were your favourite exhibitions of 2011?
[For all image credits in full, please see the original posts]
Together with Spike Jonze, she has also createdMourir Auprès de Toi, a quirky stop-animated film about book characters that come to life after dark in the famous Parisian bookshop Shakespeare & Company.
You can watch the film in full here, and read more about how it came to be made, but an excerpt is below.