Australia's Biggest-Ever Yayoi Kusama Retrospective Is Coming to the NGV with a Brand-New Infinity Mirror Room

Summer 2024–25 in Melbourne means dots, pumpkins, a world-premiere mirror room and 180-plus Yayoi Kusama works.
Sarah Ward
Published on April 15, 2024

If you're already thinking ahead to summer, here's three trends that'll be shining in Australia: spots, gourds and kaleidoscopic reflections. You'll see them all over your social feeds. You'll spy them in exhibition merchandise sported by anyone who visits NGV International. And, most excitingly, you'll be surrounded by the trio at the Melbourne art gallery, which will be hosting a huge Yayoi Kusama retrospective as its summer blockbuster.

When we say that Yayoi Kusama, the exhibition, is big, we mean it. While the Japanese artist's work is no stranger to Aussie shores — and was the focus of a comprehensive showcase at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art back in 2017–18 — NGV International's ode to the iconic talent will be the largest that country has ever seen. When it displays from Sunday, December 15, 2024–Monday, April 21, 2025, more than 180 works will feature, the world-premiere showing of a brand-new infinity mirror room among them.

It's a massive endeavour for the NGV, too. "It's the largest space that's been given a living contemporary artist, across the entire ground floor," Wayne Crothers, NGV's Senior Curator of Asian Art, tells Concrete Playground.

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama's Chandelier of grief 2016/18 at Tate Modern, London, © YAYOI KUSAMA

The NGV has curated Yayoi Kusama with input from Kusama, with the end result stepping through the 95-year-old artist's eight decades of making art via a thematic chronology. Some pieces hail from her childhood. Some are recent. Her output in her hometown of Matsumoto from the late 30s–50s; the results of relocating to America in 1957; archival materials covering her performances and activities in her studios, especially with a political charge, in the 60s and 70s: they'll all appear.

Half of the exhibition will be devoted to the past four decades — so, pumpkins galore; giant paintings; and an impressive and expansive range of room installations, complete with her very first infinity room from 1965, plus creative interpretations since from the 80s onwards. Again, this is a hefty exhibition. It's one of the most-comprehensive Kusama retrospectives ever staged globally (and the closest that you'll get to experiencing her Tokyo museum without leaving Australia).

"We've been wanting to do a major exhibition with this artist for a long time. We're very focused on contemporary art. We're very focused on Asian art. And Kusama hasn't had a big solo show in in Australia for some time — and she's still very active. So there's past works, but also some contemporary works being produced right at the moment," continues Crothers.

Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkin 1981, Collection of Daisuke Miyatsu © YAYOI KUSAMA

If you're keen to be one of the first people in the world to be wowed by Kusama's new infinity room, it'll be as immersive as such spaces always are when she's behind them. Even the NGV team don't know the full details of the piece that's being produced especially for the exhibition, so it'll be a surprise to everyone. It'll be complemented by the aforementioned array of rooms, which is "one of the largest displays, for our audience, of those immersive rooms that have ever been assembled globally," Crothers advises.

Eager to see a five-metre-tall bronze sculpture of a pumpkin? 2020's Dancing Pumpkin, which has just been acquired by the NGV, will feature. And, for the first time in Australia, 2019's THE HOPE OF THE POLKA DOTS BURIED IN INFINITY WILL ETERNALLY COVER THE UNIVERSE will unleash its six-metre-high tentacles — as speckled with yellow-and-black polka dots, of course.

Almost six decades since first debuting at 1966's Venice Biennale — unofficially — Narcissus Garden will be a part of Yayoi Kusama in a new version made of 1400 30-centimetre-diameter stainless silver balls. Now that's how you open an exhibition, as this will. NGV's Waterwall is also scoring a Kusama artwork specific to the space, while the Great Hall will be filled with the giant balloons of Dots Obsession floating overhead.

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama's Flower Obsession 2017 on display in NGV Triennial from 15 December 2017 – 15 April 2018 at NGV International Melbourne. Image courtesy of NGV

Basically, wherever you look across NGV International's ground level, Kusama works will be waiting, spanning paintings, installations, sketches, drawings, collages and sculptures, as well as videos and clothing. Dots will obviously be inescapable. One section of the gallery will replicate Kusama's New York studio. Over 20 experimental fashion designs by the artist will also demand attention. Infinity Net paintings from the 50s and 60s, Accumulation sculptures and textiles from the 60s and 70s, and a Kusama for Kids offshoot with all-ages interactivity (fingers crossed for an obliteration room) are also on their way.

The must-see exhibition for Melbourne locals and travel-worthy event for art lovers located outside of the Victorian capital will benefit from pieces from the artist's own personal collection — and rarely seen photos, letters (including to and from fellow artist eorgia O'Keefe), posters, magazines, teen sketch books and films — while others will be sourced from Japanese and Australian institutions.

Yayoi Kusama. The obliteration room 2002–present. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art © YAYOI KUSAMA

"Kusama's imagery has become part of the general common visual vernacular of the society," notes Crothers. "And I think our role in the exhibition, or what I've really taken on, is to introduce how profound the journey has been that's led her to this point of global visual recognition, going right back to a very ambitious teenager in rural Japan, and then the letter correspondence and New York, and delving into a lot of archival material."

"There are few artists working today with the global presence of Yayoi Kusama. This world-premiere NGV-exclusive exhibition allows local audiences and visitors alike the chance to experience Kusama's practice in deeper and more profound ways than ever before," said NGV Director Tony Ellwood AM in the summer showcase's official announcement.

"We are indebted to Yayoi Kusama for her passion and collaboration on this special project. Without the artist's personal dedication to this exhibition — and excitement to share her worldview with Australian audiences — none of this would be possible."

Yayoi Kusama, 2022 © YAYOI KUSAMA

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama c. 1939 © YAYOI KUSAMA

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama's Infinity mirror room – Phall's Field 1965 at the Castellane Gallery, New York © YAYOI KUSAMA

Yayoi Kusama displays at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne from Sunday, December 15, 2024–Monday, April 21, 2025. Head to the NGV website for more details and tickets.

Top image: excerpt of Yayoi Kusama, 2022 © YAYOI KUSAMA.

Published on April 15, 2024 by Sarah Ward
Tap and select Add to Home Screen to access Concrete Playground easily next time. x