Follow by e-mail

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The last days of Yayoi Kusama's Tate show

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

2 June

I need another hour to finish looking at this exhibition, as I am not in the league of two ladies who once, in this very members' room at Tate Modern, declared that they had 'done' one in an hour and a half, because they had graduated from a course in history of art - and I think that they intended to polish off the other one in a similar span. I have no notion of what they did or not absorb or how quickly, but thirteen or so rooms is too much for me, so I work within my limits, and skulk off for a coffee - or something stronger, maybe even food at London prices - when I need to, and, if I have time to go back and want to, I do.

My viewing, then, is incomplete, but I am already sure of two things: that Yayoi Kusama sometimes has a distinctive voice (and then tends to demonstrate her extremely great capacity for creativity), but sometimes does not, and that work, to me, then seems pretentious, and not imbued with the same sure artistic sense. Her friendship with Joseph Cornell, for example, clearly brought out a prodigious talent for collage, which is visible in the pieces exhibited in the corridor that is room 9 (and we are lucky enough that Kusama has allowed three of Cornell's works that she owns to be shown).

I am also insufficiently convinced that what are eagerly called phalli are any more than potatoes or their tubers (as the appearance of the Phallic Shoes of room 8 amply testify), and someone has therefore not been entirely trustworthy, given the scope for Freudian and other interpretation, in applying this deliberate description. Yes, there may be a generative principle (there had been an organic, yet cosmic, quality to Kusama's works in watercolour and gouache in room 2), and the Yellow Trees of room 11, for example, writhe with an energy that, my own psychoanalytic profile apart, is a burgeoning, even threatening (as the coils of serpents have the power to crush), power of nature. Other canvases in that room and from the same period, such as the triptych of Weeds, have a more benign quality of reproducing and filling space.

At some point, we will be faced by the question (and some curatorial interpretation) What does all this filling mean? We are told that it is Kusama's obsessional side (which came out in the series of Infinity Nets), but, although it doesn't prove that she hasn't got one, is it different from or more or less creative than Damien Hirst's Medicine Cabinets (1997), with its ten bought cabinets (each named after a track from Never Mind the Bollocks...) filled with empty medicine packaging, which is supposedly arranged according to some medical curatorship or taxonomy.

Is Kusama's filling of a canvas, whether in the mid-1950s or since, really ridden with angst? Somehow, I doubt it any more than there is really any collecting in procuring the preservation (or, more likely, arranging for others to procure it) of empty tubs and packets of medication:

If one did question that proposition on my part, then, with the display-cabinets full of stainless-steel (assumed) surgical implements (some surely are not!), can one believe that Hirst did much more than get a rep to bring around a good range of samples, which, with no real regard to anything other than entertainingly (and aestehtically) fitting multiples of them in the cabinet in question, he tried on the shelves and then ordered as many as he needed. (A task probably best delegated to an assistant, even, whose judgement would be sufficiently good, as would the willingness of the rep to supply on a sale-or-return basis, that minimal rearrangement would be necessary to perfect the work.)

'You can't sell art like hot dogs or ice cream cones at the Venice Biennale', they said. But I believe them to be wrong. I think that art should be within the price range for the masses rather than a few wealthy individuals.

This comment, made (I think) contemporaneously, refers to what appeared to be the constituent elements, akin (as far as I can tell) in appearance to Magritte's alleged stylized cow-bells, from the arrangement of which Kusama's installation had been made. She was selling them off for two dollars apiece, which would have been a real bargain (until she was stopped). Compare this with Hirst's going directly to the market with the huge auction of his works a few years back...

No comments: