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Yayoi Kusama, Queen of Polka Dots, Opens Museum in Tokyo

No surprise there: Last spring, when Ms. Kusama’s work was exhibited at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, the show attracted record numbers of visitors who stood in long lines for the chance to spend 20 or 30 seconds in each mirrored room.

In an effort to limit crowds in the new Tokyo museum, only 50 visitors will be admitted at a time for one of four 90-minute slots per day.

The building, designed by the architectural firm Kume Sekkei, stands five stories high in Shinjuku, a residential neighborhood close to Ms. Kusama’s studio and the psychiatric hospital where she has lived voluntarily since 1977.


“Starry Pumpkin” (2015) by Yayoi Kusama.

Motohiko Hasui for The New York Times

Designed as five large cubes stacked on top of each other, the museum features galleries with high ceilings, pristine white walls and curved corners. White polka dots are stenciled onto glass panels lining the front of the building. Museum staff declined to say how much it had cost to build.

Ms. Kusama selected all of the art that appears in the inaugural exhibition, “Creation Is a Solitary Pursuit, Love Is What Brings You Closer to Art,” which includes mostly recent work and runs until Feb. 25. Exhibitions will be rotated every six months.

“It will probably be a mecca for Kusama,” said Yasuaki Ishizaka, the former head of Sotheby’s in Japan and now an art adviser. “She is one of the first Japanese — the only Japanese perhaps — who has a really popular worldwide following, whether it’s Asia, Europe or the States, or whether it’s with elderly or younger people.” Ms. Kusama said she creates her works during a process of obsessive concentration and hallucinations.In 2014, one of her works, “White No. 28,” sold for $7.1 million, with premium, at Christie’s.

The new exhibition includes 45 pieces, 16 of which are part of the series “My Eternal Soul” — large, electric-colored acrylic paintings that Ms. Kusama has been working on since 2009 and that were exhibited at the National Art Center in Tokyo earlier this year.


Yayoi Kusama’s new museum in Shinjuku, a residential neighborhood close to the artist’s studio and the psychiatric hospital where she has lived voluntarily since 1977.

Motohiko Hasui for The New York Times

Ms. Kusama has continued to work on the series, producing a painting every day or two; four works that have never been shown in public before are displayed in a large open room on the museum’s third floor.

One of her signature mirror-lined rooms, with rows of yellow and black pumpkins reflected into infinity, is installed on the fourth floor. A large gold and pink mosaic-tiled pumpkin sculpture sits in a room on the top floor overlooking a vista of apartment blocks, with the laundry drying on the balconies across the street offering a prosaic backdrop to Ms. Kusama’s mesmerizing work.

Summing up her philosophy of art, Ms. Kusama said, “I hope that you will continue to understand my spirit and that this is for the benefit of world peace and love.”

In an interview in her studio after the media preview, Ms. Kusama, dressed in a yellow and black polka-dot print caftan, a fiery red wig and a streak of red paint splashed on her right shoe, continued the theme of world peace.


Silkscreens on canvas from the series “Love Forever.” The original series was produced by Ms. Kusama in New York from 1958 to the late 1960s and combined elements of Minimalism and Pop Art.

Motohiko Hasui for The New York Times

Although she did not address specific current events like the nuclear crisis in North Korea, she said she wanted her art to contribute to “happiness for human beings and a world without war.”

Ms. Kusama, who was born in 1929 in the mountain town of Matsumoto, began painting from hallucinations she experienced as a young girl. Some of her antiwar sentiments stem from the fact that she lived through World War II in Japan, going to work at a military factory to sew parachutes when she was just 13 years old.

She was abused by her mother and has spoken openly about her mental neuroses. In an interview with Tamaki Saito, a Japanese psychiatrist, in his 2008 book, “Artists Dance on the Borderline,” she recalled that she had undergone six years of Freudian analysis in New York but that the treatment had stymied her creativity.

“Ideas stopped coming out no matter what I painted or drew,” she said, “because everything was coming out of my mouth.”


Ms. Kusama at work in her studio on Tuesday.

Motohiko Hasui for The New York Times

Asked at her studio about the relationship between her psychiatric condition and her art, her handlers suggested the question was “too sensitive.”

But Ms. Kusama insisted on answering. “Since I was 10 years old I have been painting every day,” she said. “And even now there is not a day that I do not paint.” She added, “I still see polka dots everywhere.”

Her goal, she said, sitting in front of two new works in her studio, is to keep going. “I am just trying to struggle, always,” she said. “Art is everything for me and I have been struggling for art.”

She said she frequently hears from museums around the world wanting to stage exhibitions of her work. “I am just trying to concentrate on painting,” she said.

An assistant rolled her back to a table where a large sky-blue canvas rested. Ms. Kusama picked up a small brush from a dish of black acrylic paint, and carried on painting columns of catlike eyes that she had started that morning.

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