New York Goes Dotty for Yayoi Kusama

Attendance won’t be spotty for the Yayoi Kusama retrospective, which opens today at the Whitney Museum following a Tuesday evening fete that abounded with polka dots, disembodied tentacles, and enough red mylar balloons to send the diminutive artist herself aloft (alas, she was not in attendance). “She might be a small woman, but she’s one hell of a powerful one,” said Whitney Museum director Adam Weinberg at a press preview for the exhibition, which was organized with Tate Modern and made previous stops in Madrid, Paris, and London. “This historic retrospective brings her back to the city where, as she said, ‘Kusama has become Kusama.’ Some of the most important developments in her life and work happened here.”

The Whitney installation, overseen by curator David Kiehl, unfolds chronologically over a series of rooms devoted to her distinct artistic phases, including early paintings, sculptural installations, and a group of collages from the 1970s that evoke the work of an undersea Joseph Cornell and Max Ernst on the moon. And don’t be put off by the line to spend a minute alone inside Kusama’s “Fireflies on the Water” (2002), a darkened dazzle chamber that is installed on the museum’s lobby level. While you wait, transform your favorite photos into constellations of dots or waves with the Louis Vuitton Kusama Studio app (a free iTunes download). The fashion house, a major sponsor of the Whitney exhibition, is further fueling Kusama-mania with a limited-edition range of accessories and apparel covered in the artist’s signature spots. But do avoid the pieces that mix red-and-white dots with black, lest you resemble another plucky octogenarian. “Reminds me of Minnie Mouse,” commented one shopper at the Louis Vuitton flagship on 57th Street, which earlier this week unveiled windows devoted to the work of Kusama.

(Photo at top courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro Gallery, and Gagosian Gallery; inset photo courtesy Louis Vuitton)