Curated by Alexandra Munroe
Center for International Contemporary Arts (CICA), New York, September 27, 1989–January 31, 1990
“The 1960s are not so long ago, yet the art history of the period already has its gaps. One is being filled by the Center for International Contemporary Arts, whose inaugural exhibition is a small retrospective of the work of Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist active in New York between 1958 and 1972. . . . Ms. Kusama is an artist who fits in everywhere yet stands alone. Her art touches on Pop art, Minimalism, and Surrealism as well as the European Group Zero, but it also reflects a distinct, obsessive, and often sexually charged sensibility that can be traced to her childhood. Her work is both pure and polymorphously perverse, intuitively systematic and a little mad; relentless repetition is its most characteristic strategy.”
—Roberta Smith, New York Times
Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective was the first critical survey of Yayoi Kusama ever presented. Produced as the inaugural exhibition of the Center for International Contemporary Arts (CICA) in New York, the show and its scholarly catalogue established the international field of study on Kusama’s art, focusing on her distinct output of paintings, soft sculptures, installations, and happenings of the 1960s—and thrust the artist from obscurity to fame.
Alexandra Munroe’s essay “Obsession, Fantasy and Outrage: The Art of Yayoi Kusama,” published in the exhibition catalogue, remains a seminal interpretation of the artist's practice against the backdrop of postwar Japan, her mental illness, and concurrent international art movements, including Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Eccentric Abstraction, Psychedelic art, and Zero.
At the time of its publication, it was among the first art-historical essays to argue for the necessity of including non-Western artists in an expanded view of the international avant-garde. The biographical and bibliographic research compiled and translated by Reiko Tomii have created the foundation for all subsequent research on Kusama and her activities in Japan, the United States, and Europe from her birth until 1989.