I was interested to read that Tate Modern has apparently been working in conjunction with Airbnb to provide the opportunity for renters to have Yayoi Kusama decorate a room of their choice. The implications of this are mightily tempting: your room instantly shoots up not only in interest among potential punters, but monetary value, should you decide to rip the room off the house and sell it at auction. (Who am I kidding: I mean rip your tiny box off a tiny hallway or maybe another tiny room in your tiny London-rent crippled dwelling.) Sure, it’s all a bit of fun, but I’m going to do the Scrooge thing and ask – but is it art? Well, we’ve moved beyond this question in the age of Jeff Koons, surely, into general whingeing about how bloody soullessly commercial it all is.
I like Kusama, or rather I admire her working ethic – it seems she never stops, living and breathing it – and in particular her phallic obsession. Some of her best pieces are the armchairs covered in squidgy phallic things; at least this fairly contributes somewhat to artistic thought and concept: feminism, sexism, the home, etc. bla bla bla. But the polka dots ad infinitum? I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that they embody in any way anything more than mere decoration: they are as appealing and mass marketable as possible: the humble dot, in any colour you like, decorating anything and any surface. Add mirrors to make the experience even more oooh shiny: bingo. The pumpkins are infinitely sellable, as is her ‘collaboration’ with Louis Vuitton so vacuous people can swing their Kusama bags as they traipse around Frieze.
I am of the opinion that Kusama lets this selling out happen all around her. She has lived for most of her life in a psychiatric institution and clearly draws and creates impulsively. Her work on show at Victoria Miro in London pleasingly shows a richer body of work we rarely see, with bright, almost compulsively created paintings, which is probably her real interest, along with obsessively putting dots on everything. I am just depressed that the motif has been seized upon by those seeing the marketability, putting her real work in the shade: the galleries choosing the dots to make oo-wow rooms instead of interesting individual wall paintings; Louis Vuitton; traders selling pumpkins; and now Tate Modern and Airbnb. Harrumph.
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