Yayoi Kusama museum’s latest exhibition will have you seeing spots
Stars and Stripes February 16, 2023
In 2021, a typhoon damaged the famous yellow polka-dotted pumpkin on the end of a pier in Naoshima, but you can still see plenty of new and old works by the pumpkin’s world-renowned creator, Yayoi Kusama, at her museum in central Tokyo.
The current exhibition, “Every Day I Pray for Love,” is described by the Yayoi Kusama Museum’s website as also belonging to the title of several artworks along with the accompanying poems, and then the title of a new series, which Kusama is currently devoting herself to creating.
While her iconic polka-dotted pumpkins and immersive mirror rooms are missing from this exhibition, there is still plenty to see. Upon entering the museum in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward, you will encounter a cluster of bright pink inflated balls with black polka dots. This is the installation work “Dots Obsession” (1996/2022).
Despite being in her early 90s, Kusama is still creating new works and some pieces from 2020 and 2021 have been added to the third floor’s large-scale series of acrylic paintings, “My Eternal Soul,” which she started in 2009.
The inspiration behind her trademark polka dots are hallucinations she has had since she was a child. You can experience something akin to that in “I'm Here, but Nothing,” an immersive, kaleidoscopic installation on the fourth floor. Photography is allowed but be quick as you get only two minutes inside the UV-lit room that is covered from floor to ceiling in colorful, coin-sized fluorescent polka dots.
I spent the most time in the top floor’s library area where a variety of books (available in Japanese and English for both children and adults) gave me more background about the stages of the Kusama’s life and how the art in the rooms below coordinated with those stages.
The museum is a bit small. Winding my way up to the five-tentacled metallic sculptures on the sunlit roof took less than 45 minutes. Kusama’s immersive infinity rooms inspired but were spoiled for me by larger experiences like teamLab Borderless. Perhaps it’s a bit like how some modern listeners can’t appreciate the influence of The Beatles in today’s pop music.
While most museums have you exit via the gift shop, the items on sale here all fit on a single disappointing display by the reception desk. Many seemed overpriced, and I’ve seen a better selection of Kusama items at various souvenir shops around central Tokyo. A pack of three postcards cost about $8 and 10 rolled cookies in a collectible tin were about $10.
For kids, the reception desk has a printed worksheet to guide younger visitors through Kusama’s life and the works on display.
That said, I’m not sure if I’d call the place family friendly. Strollers must be checked at the front desk. And at peak times, elevator access to every floor could be a wait as guests are instructed to use the elevator and not the stairs to descend from the higher floors of the museum.
The latest exhibit closes on Feb. 26, but the next exhibition should open in late April. Perhaps the iconic immersive room with the glowing pumpkins will make its return.
On the QT
Location: 107 Bentencho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 162-0851
Directions: An 8-minute walk from Tokyo Metro’s Waseda Station’s Exit 1 on the Tozai Line; A 5-minute walk from Ushigome-yanagichoSstation on the Toei Odeo Line
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays to Sundays and Japanese national holidays. Last entry 4:30 p.m. There’s a 90-minute timed entry.
Cost: 1,100 yen, adults; 600 yen, ages 6 to 18; free, younger than 6.
More Information: yayoikusamamuseum.jp/en/home