There are people that have extremely difficult and painful lives, yet somehow, some of them are able to still go on to bring delight to other people’s. That is quite something. Yayoi Kusama is one such person and her latest exhibition at the Victoria Miro gallery has filled the uplifting artworks void in London recently left by Matisse’s cut-outs. This is an exhibition that puts a smile on your face. It’s nothing particularly new for Kusama, pumpkins are a reoccurring theme first seen in her drawings in 1948 and her signature bright spotted style continues unabashed in this new body of work.
Three spaces, differently lit, make up this pleasing gallery and each one has pumpkins by Kusama worked in a different medium. Downstairs sit two dazzling fibreglass mirror tiled, let’s call them, disco pumpkins, upstairs displays painted (acrylic on canvas) and wall mounted pumpkins, and outside in the small garden are placed three different sized bronze pumpkins.
Kasama comes from a family that cultivated seeds, and plant interpretations have featured frequently in her work. Her delightful poem outlines her deep connection with this particular vegetable. In addition, the exhibition hand-out reports, she is “enchanted by their charming and winsome form“, “generous unpretentiousness” and “spiritual base“. All feelings perceivable at the Victoria Miro exhibition.
Pumpkins belong to Cucurbitaceae, a plant family native to and originally cultivated in the Andes and Mesoamerica. The group includes many other well-known vegetables including squash, marrow, courgette, watermelon and cucumber. Knowing what we mean by squash or pumpkin, what species of plant they relate to, can be quite confusing and culturally different depending on if you’re from the US or the UK. As for Kusama’s native Japan and the rest of the world we’re even further in the dark. None of these names are botanically definitive. But in Kasama’s case, all the different shapes and sizes with deep ridges and big stems (or handles) next to the fruit are probably Cucurbita pepo varieties, which tend to have orange-yellow flowers, and fruits with bright orange skin and hard, woody, distinctly furrowed stems.
Kasama is quoted as saying “My life is a dot lost among thousands of other dots“. Well luckily, from our perspective, that’s just not true. She is an artist that has done much, not least highlight our interconnectedness with plants.
Exhibition runs until 19th December 2014 at the Victoria Miro gallery 16 Wharf Road, London, N1