Hot Ticket: Yayoi Kusama Museum

Headed to Tokyo? Put this new attraction on your must-see list

BY ADAM H. GRAHAM — Spring 2018

ising over the drab, low-slung outskirts of Shinjuku like a stack of illuminated bento boxes is the new Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo, which opened last fall to such instant success that tickets to its inaugural show sold out immediately. The compact, five-story structure was designed by the architectural firm Kume Sekkei but commissioned in secret by the 88-year-old artist herself, who is known for her scarlet bob wig and polka-dot sunglasses. She has lived voluntarily in a nearby psychiatric hospital since 1977 and continues to paint every day.

The building features white minimalist interiors filled with Kusama’s trademark sculptural pumpkins, some illuminated inside a mirrored infinity box, and dozens of her oversize polka-dotted canvases, which appear childlike at first glance but slowly reveal adult themes of love and sexuality. More blingy touches include mirrored elevators and a nearly 6-foot-tall sparkling gold-and-pink-tile mosaic pumpkin on the rooftop that absorbs and reflects the rare unfiltered Tokyo sunshine, a touching metaphor for the artist’s homage to the vulnerability and curiosity of girlhood, a recurring theme in her work.

Kusama, originally from the city of Matsumoto in the Japanese Alps, lived in New York City from 1957 to 1973 where she befriended contemporary artists such as Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and pop icon Andy Warhol, a good friend whom she later accused of stealing her ideas. She has had retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Tate Modern in London, but is arguably best known for her beloved pumpkins on Naoshima, an art-filled island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea.

Details: Due to the popularity of Kusama’s work, the museum staff limits the number of visitors to 70 at a given time. They’re admitted for 90-minute time slots, four times a day. Nonrefundable tickets must be purchased online two months in advance and go on sale at 10 a.m. (Japan Standard Time) on the first day of each month. “Here, Now, I Have Reached the Grandest Start of My Life,” a new exhibit featuring 40 of Kusama’s rare early drawings and watercolors, runs April 1-Aug. 31. 107 Bentencho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo; yayoikusamamuseum.jp

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