Stepping into the MACAN (Modern and Contemporary Art Nusantara) Museum is like venturing deep into a psychedelic world of abstract expressionism. Bold splashes of colour ignite the wide spaces that are at once welcoming in its embrace of all things artistic.
Globally acclaimed avant garde artist Yayoi Kusama’s spell binding work, ‘Life is the Heart of a Rainbow” is currently on display, and from the reactions of the crowds that have thronged the space - and peppered social media with photos of bold art works emblematic of the renowned artist, it’s not hard to see the attraction.
The artist, who was once known for her glowing pumpkins, has brought a new range of art here. From bright yellow balls to her famous mirrored enclosures, this is Kusama at her best, infinity rooms, exaggerated eyelashes, vivid colours, the lot.
This exhibit explores the development of her iconic motifs and themes, and provide a chronological look into her life, her world, through polka-dotted lens.
The large, inflatable yellow balls with oversized polka dots introduce visitors to her work, and peering into the opening of a life-sized installation of the aforementioned ball reveals, on the surface, an intricate glimpse into this complex mind via the lens of mirrors strategically placed, and deeper, into the vision of this artist with a deep connection to the attributes of space.
So, too is the representation of the self in the myriad silver balls that reflect the one who looks at it. Put together in protest of the commodification of art, the balls took on a definitive meaning when first displayed at the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966.
The chronological work takes one on a journey of her life. First, through the range of her early pieces, using the nihonga style, monochromatic and polychromatic paintings formed out of the auras and objects occupying her psyche at the time. We then progress to the Infinity Nets series, painted during the time when she left her native Japan for the United States, bored of the classical styles and yearning for a different life.
Scattered throughout the museum are selfie-seekers, those who take a tactile approach to visual art. Kusama has encouraged this, and, so too, the museum.
“I think Indonesians are curious about art and culture and now we have the facility to come in and engage with the work on view,” says Aaron Seeto, the Museum Director.
The artist’s New York years are ensconsed in a room that pays homage to the time in U.S. history. Images of the artist, dressed and coiffed in 1960s style, traversing - in black and white - through the streets of Manhattan. Then there are images of her, in colour, dressed in traditional Japanese kimono, traipsing across the city’s major thoroughfares, nary a care in the world. As the museum’s notes indicate, the section displays of her work -known variously as “Body Festivals, Naked Happenings and Anatomic Explosions.”
Scattered across the museum are pieces that reflect Kusama’s thought process following her life in the U.S., when she returned to Japan. Large, bold, vivid sculptures greet the visitor, embrace them and enthrall them with vivid colour and expression. En route to what can only be considered THE spectacle of Kusama’s pieces (the infinity room), one is treated to a traipse through her soul, by way of a collection of paintings that epitomise the meaning of her title work.
And then there is the pumpkin, the work that spoke of her childhood, of the flashes of light and the intense fields of dots that have defined her work over the years.
Perhaps what is most representative is the room of mirrors, a reflection of infinity, the endless possibility of space and time. Multicoloured balls surround the viewer as if a maze and truly captures the light, bright motifs that she is best known for. The infinity room.
The line of patrons awaiting entry for a chance at a selfie in what is, perhaps, one of the most photographed spaces of our current times, is indicative of the role of art in the public domain.
Seeto agrees, noting that “We have such a large population and interesting demographics that we can tap into conversations in different ways that work with different audiences,” he notes. “With Jakarta’s complexity - and diversity, and the influence of technology in the urban environment, the museum has a civic structure that can be responsive to all those things in different ways,” he adds.
In a fitting finish, the visitor is treated to an explosion of colour in the wildest possible way. The Obliteration Room is rather like a tribute to the inner child in us all. It’s as if a hole-puncher’s safety guard popped out in a blast of g-force. Here, like elsewhere, art is interactive, and visitors are encouraged to put brightly coloured stickers in as many areas as they please. The result is a riot of colour that has one mesmerised in a space that envelopes one in its infinite embrace.
Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow is on display until 9 September at Museum Macan, Jl. Perjuangan No. 5, Kebon Jeruk, Jakarta, www.museummacan.com