Woman on the Verge

Yayoi Kusama returns right on time

Carolee Schneeman met Kusama in the mid '60s, when she too was working with live, nude performance. "As a woman," Schneeman says, "the only way you could have access to the dominant art culture was both to resemble it and to disturb it. We were using the nude in order to destroy its meaning. But the art world will see Kusama as a naked girl who wants to show off."

In 1973, suffering mental and financial distress, Kusama returned to Japan; four years later she voluntarily entered the psychiatric hospital where she still lives. In the mid '80s, she began publishing novels and poetry that evoke New York's underworld with gritty, hallucinatory intensity. A new generation in Japan rediscovered her art through her writings, but her revival in the West came a decade later, following exhibitions by Paula Cooper and curator Alexandra Munroe. In 1993 Kusama was the first solo artist to ever (officially) represent Japan at the Venice Biennale.

Why Kusama now? Certainly the look of her work from the '60s is of the moment: think of the exuberance of Polly Apfelbaum or Jessica Diamond, the psychedelic jolt of Fred Tomaselli, the fetishistic excesses of Rona Pondick or Portia Munson, the cool abjection of Mike Kelley. Think, in a different vein, of the astral delicacy of Vija Celmins and Bruce Conner. But her relevance also lies, as Laura Hoptman notes, in the scope of her ambition: to work with both ideas and objects, to be at once in the studio, on the street, in the media, and all over people's bodies. Will the show at MOMA simply canonize another woman artist? Or will it help unleash the memory of her anarchic energy and vision?

"Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958­1968" opens July 9 and runs through September 22 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street. Early work: through September 30 at Peter Blum Gallery, 99 Wooster Street. Recent work: through August 7 at Robert Miller Gallery, 41 East 57th Street.

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