Yayoi Kusama, In Two Dimensions

In the public imagination, Yayoi Kusama’s name is synonymous with polka-dotted fruit, immersive LED-lit installations, and the David Zwirner gallery show of 2013 that rivaled MoMA’s Rain Room (2012) as the buzziest art attraction of the season. A crop of prints made in 2011 and 2012 is currently on display at Ota Fine Arts in Tokyo; they are quieter than the flashier works for which she is known, and inspired recent works like her “My Eternal Soul” series.

  • Installation view of “Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2,” courtesy of Ota Fine Arts

    Installation view of “Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts

  • Installation view of "Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2," courtesy of Ota Fine Arts

    Installation view of "Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2," courtesy of Ota Fine Arts

To view these prints is to glimpse into Kusama’s creative mind, which is a thrilling, if overwhelming, exercise. Based on small paintings, the prints have in turn served as drafts for other, future paintings, teased out on a larger, often more-colorful scale. In girls AAA (2011), a whirlwind of purple eyeballs, red-dotted eyelashes, and bespeckled faces converges into a striking display of color and form. Profiles of female characters overlap and intermingle, each identity obscured by its own color-block, cartoonish rendering. Lips, strands of hair, and decorative details are tinged red-orange—a color that has come to be emblematic of Kusama herself (she dons a bobbed wig in the same color). Repeated motifs expand in all directions, and it’s not hard to imagine this image translating into a massive painting or social-media-friendly installation—all dizzying shapes and scintillating colors.

A tireless creator and innovator, Kusama uses printing processes that span from silkscreen and etching to embossing and stenciling. In Seeking the Beautiful Eyes (2012), the same sketched-up characters, spidery lashes, and cheerfully dotted forms appear. The print could read like a pop-y children’s book illustration, if not for its certain sinister, Tim Burtonesque edge. Clusters of red and teal beads outlined in black appear across the frame, like neurons engaged in synaptic activity.

  • Installation view of “Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2,” courtesy of Ota Fine Arts

    Installation view of “Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts

  • Installation view of "Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2," courtesy of Ota Fine Arts

    Installation view of "Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2," courtesy of Ota Fine Arts

While these prints don’t necessarily communicate a “cosmic vision” or prompt viewers to engage on the same immediate level as an immersive room of mirrors may, the images are pleasing in the same sensory-rich, unmistakably Kusama way. For dedicated fans and thoughtful visitors, viewing Kusama’s two-dimensional practice will be a rewarding, if amusing, exercise.

Anna Furman

Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2” is on view at Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo, from Feb. 28–Mar. 28, 2015.

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Installation views of “Yayoi Kusama: Prints Part 2, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts.