Monday, September 3, 2018

An artist's life and work on display in Heather Lenz's documentary, KUSAMA: INFINITY

Before viewing the new documentary about a Japanese artist named Yayoi Kusama, TrustMovies had never heard of this woman. After viewing, her art, her life and her character will most likely stick with him for quite some time. I can't say how an art critic or super fan of Ms Kusama will react to the film, but for a novice like me, the movie proved a wonderful and fascinating entry into the artist's history, character and art -- the last of which seems to have consistently evolved and continued to innovate from one decade to the next.

The filmmaker, Heather Lenz (shown at left), both directed and co-wrote (with Keita Ideno) and has done a bang-up job of combining Kusama's biography and art, showing us how the latter changed over time.

While some of that art may appeal more strongly that other examples, it will be difficult not to be impressed with the sheer "difference" -- not to mention the exuberance and no-holds-barred commitment -- of the art produced over this very lengthy lifetime (the artist turns 80 next year). So thorough is the film that KUSAMA: INFINITY qualifies as a retrospective of an entire career.

What a life and what a career Kusama (shown above in her youth and below more recently) has had! Her mother wanted her daughter to attend an etiquette school rather than focusing on art. And that was only the tip of family-problems iceberg. Early in her career, no less than Frank Stella tells us that he wanted to buy one of her paintings but felt that $75 was too expensive. Still, as he recalls, "I think I paid $25 per week or something...."

Along the way, we learn of Yayoi's oddball "romance" with Joseph Cornell, see a huge array of her paintings and sculpture, along with the usual helping of sexism that plagued her career. No less than Claes Oldenberg "appropriated" her soft-sculpture ideas, and Andy Warhol clearly stole from her, too. Still, her innovation continued.

Plagued by depression (two suicide attempts along the way), she persevered. At the Venice Biennale she came up with a subversive idea of which even Maurizio Cattelan would be proud. Constantly ahead of her time, she performed the first gay wedding, took part in nude "happenings" to protest the war in Vietnam, and then, depressed at all that has taken place here in the USA, returned to Japan in 1973.

There is indeed something to be said for staying the course. At a more recent Venice Biennale -- in the time period between, her popularity and renown had only grown -- Kusama was to represent Japan. But at the time she was living in a psychiatric hospital, so the Japanese government felt a bit "iffy" about this sort of representation. You'll be amused and amazed at what happens.

Is Kusama "crazy"? Probably. Was she always? Maybe. But she is an artist -- one that is now said to be the most popular, living, female artist in the entire world. And that is something this loving and lovely documentary irrefutably proves.

From Magnolia Pictures and running just 75 minutes, Kusama: Infinity opens this Friday September 7 in New York City at Film Forum and in Los Angeles at the Landmark NuArt -- with a national rollout to follow.

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