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Kusama Infinity Premieres at KIFF for Japan

2019/10/18 Report

Director Heather Lenz’s documentary Kusama Infinity, about world-famous artist Yayoi Kusama, had its Japan premiere at KIFF on Friday evening October 18 at Toho Cinemas Nijo. The hotly anticipated film met expectations, offering a detailed, insightful and moving look at the artist. It took Lenz 14 years to complete the pic, both due to budget issues and Kusama’s expanding fame. But the result is more than satisfying, filling a crucial gap in history of contemporary art.

The doc starts off by offering some general views of Kusama’s extremely influential work, and then dives into a biographical examination that might help explain her work. Kusama came from wealthy family in Matsumoto city, Nagano prefecture, Japan. But all was not well at home. Her parents didn’t get along and her mother, who was very much against Yayoi’s artistic pursuits, used the young girl to spy on her father. Thus Yayoi saw her dad in compromising positions with other woman while she was still very young, traumatizing no doubt.

Though her family did everything they could to dissuade her, Yayoi was intent on becoming an artist and in 1958, long before it was trendy, moved to New York to pursue an art career. There, despite being unknown, she created groundbreaking and challenging work that heavily influenced legendary creators like Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol. She was part of the emerging avant-garde scene and some of her concepts, like mirrored rooms, are staples of art installations today. But in the 1960s in New York she went uncelebrated, with racism and sexism likely playing a large part.

Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 and had to start over, slowly building up her career and continuing to create inspired, revolutionary work. Finally in the late 80s and 90s she was “rediscovered” and major retrospectives awarded her the appreciation she deserves, both at home, in the US, and around the world. She has since become the leading female artist in the world, with over 5 million people visiting her museum exhibitions since the late 90s.

Director Lenz made an appearance after the screening and was clearly thrilled to debut her film in Japan. She noted, “I first saw Yayoi Kusama’s work in the early 90s when I was studying art history in college. At that time there was only one catalog about her. And when I read about her I felt that her contributions to the American art world hadn’t been properly understood or recognized and that’s what motivated me to make the movie.”

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