The Akron Art Museum’s iconic Arm Chair by Yayoi Kusama, who is nicknamed the Princess of Polka Dots, has been delicately packed and shipped overseas. Arm Chair will be displayed alongside other objects by Kusama as part of an international retrospective of her work organized by the Tate Modern in London, England.
The exhibition, Yayoi Kusama, will be on view at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain, from May 11 – September 18, 2011. From there it will journey to Centre Pompidou in Paris, France, from October 19, 2011 – January 2012. On February 9 – June 5, 2012 the exhibition will be featured at the Tate Modern. Finally Arm Chair will return to the States for the last stop on the tour at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, on view June 6 – September 28, 2012.
Born and raised in Japan, Yayoi Kusama came to New York in 1958 at age twenty-nine seeking greater artistic and personal freedom than was possible for a female avant-garde artist in her native country. Kusama has fought a continuing battle against mental illness for many years; her art was the subject of psychiatric study as early as 1952. Some critics believe that her mental stresses result, at least in part, from her position as a female non-conformist in a male-dominated society, one that values consensus over individualism. This may also account for the long delay in her receiving recognition in her own country, though she is now considered to be Japan’s greatest living artist.
Kusama’s long term obsession with repeated forms and grotesque eroticism is well illustrated in Arm Chair. This work is from her first significant body of sculpture, which she originally called “accumulations.” These consist of common household items—chairs, strollers, suitcases, sofas—upon which masses of stuffed and sewn cloth protrusions are accumulated. Arm Chair is painted a soft white and filled with cotton batting and horsehair.
The use of repeated elements is a key element of Kusama’s intense art. Arm Chair is smothered with phallic forms like metastasizing tumors, creating a visual manifestation of Kusama’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. Kusama transformed her phobia of men into the phallic protrusions as a way of freeing and neutralizing her obsession. She accentuates the psychological edge by choosing a domestic object often associated with femininity and security and invading it with aggressive male forms. Paradoxically, these uncontrollable phalluses have been created through sewing, a traditional female craft.
Arm Chair came to the Akron Art Museum as a gift from 1970. This is the first time it has left the museum except for conservation in the 1990s. The museum’s other Kusama work, Chair, with its silver protrusions, was gifted to the museum in 1998 and will remain on view in the Sandra L. and Dennis B. Haslinger Family Foundation Galleries. Untitled #64 by Donald Lipski has been chosen to temporarily replace Arm Chair. This is the first time this work has been on view since being accessioned by the museum in 2009.
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