Anyone with access to the internet over the last decade or so has seen the work of Yayoi Kusama. The 89-year-old Japanese artist's paintings, soft sculptures, and mirrored infinity rooms have captivated audiences around the globe. But this was not always the case; Kusama's long life as a creative has been fraught with pitfalls and setbacks; yet, the artist has pushed through adversity to become one of the most successful artists in the world. Filmmaker Heather Lenz's debut feature tells the story of the woman behind the art and provides a conventional look at the life of Kusama.
Growing up in post-war Japan, Yayoi Kusama decided to become an artist after a hallucinatory experience in a field of flowers. Kusama set off for New York, where she found herself fighting against a white male-dominated art scene that sought to both oppress and appropriate her work. Nonetheless, Kusama carried on, staging transgressive performances against the Vietnam War, upending the Venice Biennale, and expanding beyond the gallery into the worlds of film and fashion. The artist's career was filled with ups and downs, none of which kept her from creating her instantly recognizable work.
The abstract nature of Kusama's work contrasts with the way Lenz chooses to tell her story, which could be seen as both beneficial and harmful. Infinity is told in a very straightforward fashion that’s familiar to fans of documentary film. The film moves from event to event in Kusama's life throughout the short 76-minute runtime. It often treats what seem like pivotal events in the timeline as mere asides as it plunges towards the present. It doesn't help that these events are almost entirely dictated by a stream of art critics, museum curators, and professors, all of whom tell us what Kusama was feeling at the time. The artist herself appears briefly throughout the film but she rarely tells her own story. This may be due to the artist's reclusive nature but, nonetheless, it takes away from the overall narrative.
This story is an important one, touching upon many issues that still haunt the art world as well as society at large. While not breaking any new ground in regards to contemporary documentary filmmaking, Kusama-Infinity presents a clear overview of the artist's life- those interested in the story behind her work should see this film.