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PRINT February 1997

DOT DOT DOT: THE LIFEWORK OF YAYOI KUSAMA

IN 1968 YAYOI KUSUMA’S CELEBRITY RIVALED EVEN ANDY WARHOL’S. BUT WITH THE DEATH OF CLOSE FRIEND JOSEPH CORNELL, FOLLOWED LESS THAN TWO YEARS LATER BY THAT OF HER FATHER, THE MENTAL PROBLEMS SHE HAD LONG BATTLED BECAME UNMANAGEABLE, AND SHE OPTED FOR THE SILENCE OF A TOKYO PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL. WITH TWO MAJOR NEW YORK GALLERY SHOWS IN THE PAST YEAR AND AN EXHIBITION SCHEDULED FOR 1998 AT LACMA, HER RETURN TO THE SPOTLIGHT IS COMPLETE. ANDREW SOLOMON MET WITH THE ARTIST AS SHE OPENED HER CURRENT INSTALLATION AT THE MATTRESS FACTORY IN PITTSBURGH, TO ASK HER ABOUT HER ART AND THE LIFE IT HAS TRANSFORMED.

I WAS SURPRISED BUT DELIGHTED that Yayoi Kusama came to meet me at the Pittsburgh airport. It made for a large group: Kusama; her two assistants; the curator of the Mattress Factory, who was driving; a translator. They were right at the gate when I stepped off the plane. There was no mistaking Kusama. Tiny, old, dressed in a red embroidered silk jacket, loose trousers, and sneakers, her long black hair free-falling down her back, she stood surrounded by attendants like some marvelous glass ornament enveloped by protective cotton. Of her original beauty, the most striking remnant is her eyes, which are vast and dark and clear and younger than the rest of her face. She shuffled forward and looked at me with alarming intensity, as though she were seeing a vision in my polite smile. There was a lot of shaking of hands and a certain amount of bowing, in the Japanese manner, and then I said that

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