Kusama Exhibition

I’m a member of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. As a  member, I had the chance to see a preview of the Yayoi Kusama exhibit on Thursday. Getting a ticket for the show was a very long process. I was in a virtual line for 7 hours and could only do that because I was working at home all day with no outside appointments to interfere. After a while, I viewed the process with some hilarity and didn’t know if I was a sheep being lured by all the hype, but I decided to see for myself.

I’m very glad I went to the show. I enjoyed it greatly–not only the infinity rooms that you step inside for 20 seconds and see a variety of lights, shapes and yourself and others mirrored many times over, but also her paintings, collages and sculptures. And I found her meditations on life and death very meaningful since I’m old and have always, at any rate, had an awareness of death close by my side.

Here’s some of the photos I took. The first two are of some of the infinity rooms. I am not into selfies in general, but I took photos of the rooms. Even doing that, I felt I was giving in to the obsessive nature of snapping cell phone pics and not experiencing the present. But because the crowds were not extreme on Thursday morning, I doubled back later and stood in the rooms without taking photos.

The first infinity photo is of The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.

This next Infinity Room is called Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity.

This is a giant globe you peer into in a room filled with giant pink and polka dotted spheres.

Though the Infinity Rooms were very beautiful and thought provoking, her paintings and sculptures were my favourite part of the show. Here, though I took some photos to remember the pieces, I was able to take time to contemplate the works for as long as I wanted. I loved the wild shapes of the sculptures and the colours and shapes of the paintings.

I believe this large sculpture is called Surrounded by Heartbeats. It had particular meaning for me because of the series of work I’m about to start on the theme of the heart.

This next painting, one of my favourites, (although all were powerful) is called My Heart’s Abode.

And this next is Story After Death. The titles of all the paintings were listed on diagrams at each end of the displays. When I saw this title, I figured I better pay close attention to whichever painting it was. Being an elder, I figured I could learn something about what may await me. Earlier in the exhibit, with her collages, I saw a quote from her friend, Joseph Cornell that I loved. He said “I never forget about death, it’s like going from this room into the next.” 

I haven’t spoken about Kusama’s political activism or her openly confronting her fears about sex. There are many layers to think about in seeing her work. But I’ll end with a quote that made me laugh though it’s extremely serious. It’s from the 1960’s, when she became part of the Vietnam War protests. As part of that, she staged one-off guerrilla style performance art pieces that involved nude gatherings. She called these Anatomic Explosions. I loved part of the open letter that she sent to U.S. president Richard Nixon that, alas, remains so relevant today.

In it, she wrote, “You can’t eradicate violence by using more violence…Lose yourself in the timeless stream of eternity…Anatomic explosions are better than atomic explosions.”

The Nature of Making Art

I have kept journals–diaries–on and off for the past 40 or more years. In the 1990s and early 00s, I hand wrote a huge amount in dozens and dozens of lined notebooks–mostly recording my dreams and feelings but also world events and my activities. I’ve been working on a big project, going through my journals from those years and massively editing them. By that I mean, I’ve been tearing out and shredding large portions of them while noting what I was going through at the time. Now, this may seem ghastly to some people, but it is extremely liberating to me. I am creating more room for myself at my current age, while remembering, but not holding onto, what my younger self experienced.

In the course of editing a journal this week, I saw an entry I wanted to record here. I wrote it in April of 1991 after attending an excellent painting workshop with the artist and teacher Sam Feinstein. I have always remembered the powerful nature of that workshop, but had forgotten his teachings about the nature of making art. This was my understanding of what he told us, as I wrote it in 1991:

About art making–you needn’t even believe in your creativity–do it as a way of expressing the life form that is particular to you, that is of nature and larger than you, that goes through you.  As a way of being authentic. Dreams and art are of the unconscious life force, bigger than us. Dreams are fleeting, art remains. Once a piece of art work is done, it is its own thing. It never was yours anyway. As its own thing, it is judged on its merits, apart from you.

Art is the spirit made visible through human beings reaching out from themselves, beyond themselves. Art is beyond our own feelings as we create.

Words to make art by!


The gouache painting above is one I made in the 1990s. I did it like a form of free association, attempting to allow whatever came to consciousness to find its way onto the page without censoring it.