Art and Architecture, Books for the News


In the mid-to-late 1960s, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama staged a series of happenings. Situated someplace between the physically participatory (be-in) space of protest culture and an Art Brut magick ceremony, Kusama’s polka-dot drenched performances saturated the conventional landscape with an extraordinary reality. By 1968, Kusama had begun to formalize these happenings under the name The Anatomic Explosion, accompanying each performance with a series of manifestos-qua-press-releases whose tone echoed the wild conviction of her art.

“Burn Wall Street. Wall Street men must become farmers and fisherman. Wall Street men must stop all of this fake ‘business.’ OBLITERATE WALL STREET MEN WITH POLKA DOTS. OBLITERATE WALL STREET MEN WITH POLKA DOTS ON THEIR NAKED BODIES. BE IN … BE NAKED, NAKED, NAKED.”

As critic Andrew Solomon writes in a 1997 Artforum profile of Kusama:

[Kusama] began issuing hundreds of press releases, and her performances became steadily wilder. In the first of her Anatomic Explosion series, Tomii and Karia write, “across from the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, four nude dancers gyrated to the rhythm of bongo drummers, while Kusama, accompanied by her lawyer, spray painted blue polka dots on their naked bodies.” The police closed it down fast. A second such performance took place at the Statue of Liberty; a third one happened at the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, with Kusama declaring that she was the “modern Alice in Wonderland.” The performances came thick and fast after that.

What seems striking in our own moment—in a year already marked by the presence and legacy of the Occupy movement and the inspired, occasionally insipid fantasia of Mayan End Times, is Kusama’s archive: a primal and technicolored futureworld that literally danced on the grave of (capital) establishment politics. The theatrical—again, conviction—that another world is possible.

In Kusama’s autobiography Infinity Net, she reprints “Open Letter to My Hero, Richard Nixon,” which she first made public at the November 1968 happening in front of the New York Board of Elections:

Our earth is like one little polka-dot, among millions of other celestial bodies, one orb gull of hatred and strife amid the peaceful, silent spheres. Let’s you and I change all of that and make this world a new Garden of Eden.

Let’s forget ourselves, dearest Richard, and become one with the Absolute, all together in the altogether. As we soar through the heavens, we’ll paint each other with polka dots, lose our egos in timeless eternity, and finally discover the naked truth:

You can’t eradicate violence by using more violence.

That closing line, especially, feels apt, a dream-barb for burgeoning movements. You can’t eradicate capital by using more capital, the placard read. Lately it seems that so many commendable, alternative venues champion Kusama’s art historical contemporary, Rosalind Krauss. Publication in the Expanded Field; Social Media Art in the Expanded Field; Architecture in the Expanded Field.

Let them eat cake with Kusama, instead?