After spending the past four decades in a psychiatric hospital, her name written out of art history, Yayoi Kusama became an art-world phenomenon in the age of the selfie
In the past five years, more than 5 million museum visitors have queued – and queued some more – for a brief glimpse of the work of Yayoi Kusama. The 89-year-old Japanese artist, who for the past 41 years has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric hospital, has had large-scale solo shows of her work in Mexico City, Rio, Seoul, Taiwan and Chile, as well as major touring exhibitions in the US and Europe. Last year, she opened her own five-storey gallery in Tokyo. The Broad museum in Los Angeles recently sold 90,000 $25 tickets in an afternoon to its Kusama exhibition, causing the LA Times to ask if the artist was now “Hotter than Hamilton?”
As the numbers have gone up, so the time that each visitor can spend in Kusama’s installations – her immersive “infinity mirror rooms” of coloured lights, and painted pumpkins and polka dots that reflect for ever – has gone down. In 2013 the David Zwirner gallery in New York was restricting time slots to 45 seconds for each viewer. Five years on, visitors to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC, who queued for more than two hours, were down to a brisk half a minute.