Flowers that bloom at midnight

This exhibition presents the latest developments in the work of Yayoi Kusama, one of the world’s most influential and distinctive artists. Featuring work produced over the last two years, ‘Yayoi Kusama: Look Now, See Forever’ brings together the major threads of Kusama’s current practice in painting, sculpture, video and installation. Now in her eighth decade, she remains highly prolific, and is arguably more of her time now than at any point in her long career.

Kusama’s work is characterised by its stunning use of colour and its obsessive repetition of motifs such as dots, nets and organic forms. Her unique style and processes were developed in the 1950s in Japan, and have evolved through the continual dialogue between painting and an increasingly broad range of media. Her work has extended to experimental film, literature, fashion, music and social protest, and her influence can be seen in Pop art, Minimalism, concrete painting, institutional critique and performance art.

While close to many tendencies in the art of the past 50 years, Kusama has never been part of any movement. She occupies a unique role as an ‘insider–outsider’, whether as an Asian woman in male-dominated 1960s New York, or as a liberated, worldly artist in conservative 1970s Japan. Her work has therefore consistently eluded classification, and a serious international reappraisal of its significance really only began in the 1990s.

After more than half a century of art-making, Kusama’s current work is remarkable for its vibrancy, consistency and its contemporary character. Having anticipated many of the tendencies in recent art, Kusama continues to extend and deepen her unique vision. As the work in this exhibition suggests, her practice keeps numerous contradictions in play — introspection and spectacle, expressionism and formalism, Asian and Western characteristics — and, in the process, transcends them, rendering them somehow obsolete.

Over the course of Kusama’s career, discussion of the artist’s work has undergone a number of shifts. Critical responses in the West initially focused on her formal innovations in relation to artistic Modernism, while she was later discussed in the context of her identity as an Asian artist, a female artist and an artist dealing with mental illness. Japanese criticism, on the other hand, has tended to discuss the richness of her practice and her commitment to art-making as a way of working through ideas. Recent surveys at some of the world's major museums have foregrounded her idiosyncratic and encompassing vision, while the enigmatic, charismatic and unmistakable figure of the artist herself also remains a topic of conversation. This exhibition presents an opportunity for these positions to be re-examined, and for new conclusions to be drawn from the work of her most mature phase.

Yayoi Kusama has a longstanding relationship with the Queensland Art Gallery. She participated in the groundbreaking survey of 1980s Japanese art ‘Japanese Ways, Western Means’ (1989), and was one of three senior avant-garde artists who formed the core of ‘APT 2002: Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’, where her work was shown in depth. The Gallery’s significant holdings of her work, including the major installations Narcissus garden 1966/2002 and Soul under the moon 2002, remain audience favourites. ‘Look Now, See Forever’ pays tribute to an artist who occupies the singular position of being of both historical and contemporary importance.

Installation view of Flowers that Bloom at Midnight 2010–11 and a selection of paintings from 2009–10 in ‘Yayoi Kusama: Look Now, See Forever’, Gallery of Modern Art, 2011 / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc. / Photograph: Mark Sherwood