Dots Obsession, 1997
Photo: Tomes Mock

Yayoi Kusama
Dots Obsession
18 September - 2 November 1997

Kusama, internationally known for her exquisite net and dot paintings as well as sculpture and performance work, has created this new installation of her critically acclaimed work, Dots Obsession, 1996, specifically for the Rice Art Gallery. The entire gallery will be transformed into a vivid yellow, dreamlike space filled with Kusama’s signature polka dots and large anthropomorphic balloons of yellow latex also covered in dots.

A member of the New York avant-garde in the 1960s, Kusama has worked for more than thirty years in a variety of media, exploring themes of accumulation, repetition and obsession. She has been treated for mental illness since childhood, and directly channels her experiences into her work, giving it a strong and profoundly moving psychological edge. A variation of this installation was first presented at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from October 1996 through June, 1997. The installation at Rice Gallery marks the first time Kusama’s work has been shown in Houston.

“It is exciting for Rice Gallery to be presenting Kusama’s work right now,” comments gallery director Kim Davenport. “In 1968, her celebrity rivaled Andy Warhol’s, but her mental problems became unmanageable and she opted for silence. Two major shows in New York last year and the retrospective scheduled for Los Angeles in 1998 mark Kusama’s return to the spotlight and we are thrilled to be part of it.”


Born in 1929 to a prosperous family in central Japan, Kusama was doing pencil drawings that featured her distinctive motif of dots and net-like patterns by the time she was 10. During World War II, she and her classmates worked in a local parachute factory to support the war effort and after the war she entered the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts, graduating in 1949, although she was judged “not passing” in drawing. Despite strong efforts from her family to discourage her becoming an artist, Kusama began to exhibit in group exhibitions. Ongoing family disapproval, however, resulted in what Kusama calls her “era of mental breakdown.” This acknowledgment of her condition and the ongoing struggle against it, became the enabling force behind Kusama’s art. She moved to New York in 1957 and in 1959 had her first solo exhibition of five net paintings, vast canvases covered with tiny repeating patterns, at Brata Gallery, a well-regarded Tenth Street cooperative space. The show was an immediate success and Kusama’s work received acclaim from artist Donald Judd and writer and critic Dore Ashton. During the ’60s, despite successful group shows, solo exhibitions, and wild public performances, Kusama experienced recurrent bouts of depression. In February 1975 she entered the Seiwa Hospital in Tokyo, a private psychiatric hospital known for using art therapy to treat neuroses, where she continues to live today. Kusama maintains a studio outside the hospital grounds and makes art with the help of assistants. In addition to her recent installations, Kusama has written several fictional novels and composed 13 pieces of music.