Dot Com

New York

Left: Artist Yayoi Kusama at the unveiling of the window at Louis Vuitton. Right: LVMH CEO Yves Carcelle, Martha Stewart, and W editor Stefano Tonchi. (Photos: Billy Farrell Agency)

IT WAS A BIT LIKE BECKETT at the Whitney Museum the Tuesday before last. A group of us had assembled for a Louis Vuitton–sponsored dinner celebrating the American leg of Yayoi Kusama’s traveling retrospective and the launch of an LV line inspired by her obsessive iconographies. We were, as it were, waiting for Kusama. There were moments during the cocktail when the sea of socialites parted and photographers took their marks. What a disappointment to see instead Martha Stewart or Sofia Coppola enter the lobby! Granted, after crossing fourteen time zones to be here and fielding a battery of interviews for morning and evening (and probably taxi) TV earlier that day, the artist had every right to take a breather. Victoria Miro’s Glenn Scott Wright encouraged me not to give up hope: “She loves dessert. She very well may arrive after dinner.”

We moved downstairs and everyone took their seats at red, mirrored tables. A trustee welcomed guests and, in an innocent slip of the tongue, misidentified the magazine helmed by Stefano Tonchi, the evening’s cohost, before immediately and gracefully correcting herself. The gaffe prompted some gasps, yet nobody really seemed fazed that Kusama’s first name was repeatedly pronounced Yoi-ya during remarks. In this ultimately harmless regard, the through-the-looking-glass nature of the evening was underscored. It wasn’t the usual art-world suspects, save for some artists—Sarah Sze, Louise Lawler, Kara Walker, Tom Sachs—and those directly involved with the exhibition. The art socialites were outnumbered by fashion people representing a constituency that may not be as well versed in Kusama’s work but which was integral to carrying off such an ambitious exhibition. Whether the art-fashion arrangement is an increasingly prevalent quid pro quo or just an increasingly transparent one that has always been prevalent, in the case of Kusama’s work perverse proliferation into the realms of pop culture and consumerism is not only acceptable but absolutely vital.

The Whitney’s director, Adam Weinberg, took the mic and made a heartfelt speech about the exhibition, leaving the audience with a stirring anecdote in Kusama’s own words: “I never thought if art made me happy or not, but I don’t have anything else. Art is everything to me.” Moments later, LV chairman Yves Carcelle concluded his own remarks with confirmation of her famous sweet tooth: “I hope the desire of dessert will wake her up from a nap which is quite justified when you’re eighty-three and you have traveled the world to invade our shopwindows.”

Left: Artists Chuck Close and Yayoi Kusama. (Photo courtesy Whitney Museum) Right: Blonde Redhead (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency)

However, it did not. And so she missed a gastronomically avant-garde bowl of cherries spanning various states of matter, and an impeccably strange red-and-white dish in her honor: an island of halibut the color of computer paper dotting a pool of . . . hibiscus? Some guests donned the buttons scattered about the museum that read LOVE FOREVER, a slogan for the artist born of her hippie-era roots. So did the DJs, who were dressed like Harajuku-influenced Minnie Mouse cosplayers: lots more dots. Dots everywhere! Even the ceiling of the Whitney’s lobby took on new meaning, those circular, gridded light fixtures going on and on. To close the night, Blonde Redhead performed under them; their frontwoman, Kazu Makino, not unlike Kusama, had left her native Japan to find her place in the pantheon of New York alternative culture, albeit as an indie rocker.

The show opened the next night. Unanticipated, Kusama made a brief appearance during the preview. In an altogether different kind of art-meets-fashion moment (and a supreme photo op) she wheeled over to Chuck Close. Entirely attired in a kaleidoscopic blue-and-yellow West African–ish print, Close leaned over and told her: “I wore this for you.”

Kevin McGarry