Yayoi Kusama has taken New York’s Louis Vuitton flagship store on Fifth Avenue by storm … a storm of polka dots. In fact, it’s more of a transfiguration, transmogrification, transubstantiation and visionary incarnation than commercial spectacular (although it is that too). It is the divination of a most venerated active avant-garde artist.
Last Sunday, my copy of The New York Times was swaddled in a four-page 50 lb. offset broadsheet section. The front and back were covered with polka dots and, once opened, a double-truck photo of a model emerged, holding two expensive Louis Vuitton handbags covered in irregular painted spots.
This newspaper ad insert marks the 93-year-old Kusama’s second collaboration with the Louis Vuitton luxury brand since 2012, when the grand dame of polka dots, known for iconic spots in her paintings, sculptures, performances and installations, was on view the world over.
I wrote a chapter of bon mots in my recent memoir about my brief association with Kusama when she was a younger happenings artist during the ’60s, and provided and frequently replenished a supply of photos of her art events to New York’s underground porno-tabs that I worked on. (She also published her own porno tabloid titled Kusama Presents an Orgy.)
Video courtesy of New York Nico
It was a brilliant idea, and consistent with her singular legacy, to make a simulacrum of Kusama as a robot so perfectly lifelike that it could actually be her. It is not.
In addition, a photographic mural of her—or the bot—towers triumphant over the crossroads Fifth Avenue and 57th street, a 21st-century wonder of the world, a colossus that is almost as tall as the Vuitton building itself. Not to be outdone, Vuitton covered its Paris HQ with a gargantuan balloon Kusama, tightly hugging the building for dear life.
It is hard to reconcile that in 1968 she was tirelessly romping around New York’s public spaces with a merry band of naked hippies—an eccentric known around the counterculture town for her public-facing events—featuring polka dot–painted masked models gyrating around stacks of potato-phallic soft sculptures. It is the riddle of her genius that ultimately she would be thrust into a role of 21st Century high-art and design royalty.
At 93 she is a superstar. Her outpouring of art and wares are so beloved, she could easily have been elected, let’s say, Speaker of the House of Representatives on the first vote if she had wanted it. With Kusama nothing is impossible.