The Polka Dots and Pumpkins of the Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo
One of the most famous artists to come out of Japan in the last century, Yayoi Kusama's avant-garde works are now popular all over the world. The artist's museum, which opened just two years ago in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, features a compact and rotating collection of her works, with everything from striking brightly-colored paintings to large sculptural installations. As big fans of Yayoi Kusama, we thought it was about time we checked it all out!
Yayoi Kusama's Tokyo museum stands out in a quiet area of Shinjuku, as a tall, gleaming white building surrounded by small apartments and everyday shops. While its central Tokyo location is perfectly easy to get to, arriving at the museum is a little surprising, since it's in such contrast with the rest of the walk from the subway (we came from Waseda Station). The building itself is fairly small, and it contains a frequently-changing selection of Kusama's works in four galleries, compact rooms stacked one on top of another.
When we arrived this August, the current exhibition was called Here, Another Night Comes from Trillions of Light Years Away: Eternal Infinity
. (You'll find it on our event calendar right here!
- ⇧ Love Arrives at the Earth Carrying with It a Tale of the Cosmos, 2009 / Infinity Nets (2), 1958 | Image Source: Official Website
The exhibition featured some of Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Nets paintings, along with pieces from her latest series My Eternal Soul. These new, colorful canvases covered entire walls with striking and evocative imagery.
In terms of numbers, most of the art is concentrated in the 2nd and 3rd floor galleries. Plus, aside from 30+ paintings, these rooms in the exhibition highlighted news clippings and other documentation of the artist's early-career successes. Some of these were in Japanese, but there were plenty of interesting snippets from American publications in the 60s and 70s, talking about Kusama's arrival on the New York art scene.
- Visitors move through the modern museum by slowly climbing the steps up one floor at a time, so after seeing the numerous paintings, we hiked up to the 4th floor. Here we were met by a mysterious dark doorway, and a friendly member of museum staff asking us to be careful in the dim room. Inside was a magical ladder, which seemed to stretch on into infinity thanks to the round mirrors at its top and base. The glowing ladder shifted and changed color as we walked around it, the light casting different moods onto the surrounding walls. This is the first time this particular work is being displayed anywhere in the world, so don't miss it if you're a Yayoi Kusama fan currently in Tokyo.
- The final stop in the museum is the top floor, where you're first greeted by a small reading area! This is the only part of the small building that felt a bit cramped, but the little space had a small counter with chairs beneath a shelf full of Yayoi Kusama books, across from a wall listing important dates for the artist. Among the reading choices were general readers on Kusama's art, picture books featuring her original illustrations, and exhibition pamphlets from her past events.
Walk out the door on the 5th floor, though, and you'll find yourself in an open-air rooftop space! This August, the summer sun beat down on a 2015 pumpkin sculpture. This piece is officially described as a "stainless steel pumpkin sculpture with cosmic coloring, which evokes an infinite and unknown universe," capping off the infinity-themed exhibition.
Unlike some other museums we've visited in Tokyo, the staff here were happy to snap a picture for us in front of the sculpture when we asked. But it was pretty fun taking our own pictures with the highly-reflective art, too!
- "Hey there!"
- The rooftop space also affords you a bit of a view of the surrounding area!
- The elevator on the way down doesn't seem to be an official artwork of its own, but it might as well be. The polka dot mirrored walls were a nice treat as we rode the elevator down, on our way out of the museum.
Of course no museum is complete without a gift shop! There are a small number of items for sale in the lobby, which you can browse before heading out. Since Yayoi Kusama has a history of partnering with high-end designers and upscale manufacturers, many of the things there were fairly pricey, like her popular pumpkin-shaped purses (which go for tens of thousands of yen, or hundreds of USD) and silk scarves. In terms of more affordable souvenirs, there were sets of 3 postcards or tins of Japanese-style crackers, going for about 1,000 ~ 1,500 yen, plus a couple more items. These products are sure to change, so keep an eye out for something good (and let us know)!
Altogether, the museum is definitely worth a visit if you're a fan of Yayoi Kusama's work, and art lovers in general will love the famous pieces found in both the current exhibition, and the upcoming one (called Spirits of Aggregation).
It's definitely not a day trip, however! To enter the museum you have to buy timed tickets in advance (which you can do quite easily at the museum's official website), so we know that we arrived minutes before our 3 pm entrance time. After a leisurely and unrushed walk through the whole museum, we were out by 3:40! If you're planning some time in Shinjuku, or want to visit the Waseda area of Tokyo, make it one fun stop in a full day. We've written about some other things to do (and eat) in Shinjuku before, if you need ideas!
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