Kusama: Infinity (2018) Movie Script

Alexandra Munroe: Kusama was born in 1929,
in Nagano Prefecture, in Matsumoto City,
which is a rural, provincial castle town.
She was the youngest of four children
born to Kamon and Shigero Kusama.
Munroe: Kusama describes drawing as a child,
and her mother sneaking up behind her
and tearing the picture out of her daughter's hands.
And that sense of hysteria and panic, I think,
informs Kusama's own process of making art,
where she is working so fast and so furiously
to finish a work before it is torn from her.
Judith E. Vida: There was a deal
that her mother made with her
that if she went to etiquette school,
she could also go to art school.
And Kusama made the deal,
and apparently she never went to the etiquette lessons,
but did go to her art school, and her mother was furious.
One senses a family that was, um
wracked with interpersonal problems.
Her father and mother did not have such a great relationship.
Midori Yoshimoto: Her mother would send
her daughter Kusama
to spy on him.
Witnessing her father being with a different woman
must have been really traumatic for a young, sensitive person.
Munroe: She's talked to me about being in this field of flowers
on her family's farm, where she had wandered in.
Some kind of trauma happened in the field.
Munroe: So much of Kusama's art
seeks to recreate that experience
in one form or another.
It is literally an experience of being lost
into her physical environment,
of losing her selfhood in this space
that is moving rapidly, and expanding rapidly.
Morris: She came across Georgia O'Keeffe's work.
O'Keeffe engaged with the natural world
in a way that is sort of fantastic and dreamlike
and deeply realist as well.
I think there was something about the work
and that here was a great American female artist.
Something clicked in Kusama's head
and she thought, "This is a person that I aspire to be.
This is somebody who can mentor me."
And so she wrote to Georgia O'Keeffe.
"Dear Miss O'Keeffe,"
Will you please forgive me to interrupt you
while you are very busy
and let me introduce myself to you?
I am a Japanese female painter.
There are very few opportunities to see your work in Japan.
I've only seen one of your original paintings, Black Iris.
It gave me a strong impression.
I felt that I had in me
something which seemed very related
to what lay at the bottom of Black Iris.
Some days ago, I thought of finding your address.
I am going to send several watercolor paintings to you.
I'm only on the first step of a long, difficult life
of being a painter.
Will you kindly show me the way to approach this life?
"Yours faithfully, Miss Yayoi Kusama."
Morris: Kusama was probably thrilled
when O'Keeffe wrote back to her.
"Dear Yayoi Kusama,"
Your two letters came to me, and your watercolors also came.
They are interesting. But I live in the country,
and the art world is in the city.
I'm not young, you know.
I have had all of the things you wish to move toward.
In this country, an artist has a hard time making a living.
You will just have to find your way as best you can.
But I wish the very best for you.
"Sincerely, Georgia O'Keeffe."
O'Keeffe gave her advice to come to the United States,
to bring her work with her,
to be unafraid to show it to anybody
who she thought might be interested.
Morris: The opposition of her family
and the challenges to become an accomplished artist
must have driven this notion that at some point,
she would have to escape.
Munroe: Kusama is among the very first artists
in postwar Japan
to make her way to New York,
where she takes up residence in 1958.
She knew in herself that she had a will
and a vision that was enormous.
Hanna Schouwink: She had to smuggle money into the country.
She came to America with dollar bills sewn in her kimono.
Eric La Prade: Kusama was coming into the New York art world,
and she was a single woman.
Previous to that, women could be included in group shows,
not one-person shows.
Even some of the women dealers wouldn't show women.
Hanford Yang: I used to see her cry,
coming back from a visit to the galleries.
She was very aggressive.
She wanted so much to be in the galleries,
but couldn't even get through the door.
Glenn Scott Wright: She was twice the other.
Not only was she a woman in a male-dominated art world,
but she was also Japanese.
She was not taken seriously by the establishment.
Lynn Zelevansky: She's wearing current fashions,
and then she starts wearing kimonos for special occasions.
There's a lot of mystery and allure to being an Asian female.
She's trying to survive in this world.
Yamamura: There is a painting called Pacific Ocean from 1958,
and Kusama said that that is really the origin
of infinity net painting.
One of the reasons why Pacific Ocean
was so important for her is because when she grew up
in the mountain province of Matsumoto City,
the people who were living there, you know,
their dream of life was really
to go beyond the mountains to see the Pacific Ocean.
I remember a particular gallery opening
where Kusama and I were intensely engaged
in the potential development of her future,
starting with funds, and that she wanted to know,
"Carolee, is there an important man here in this opening?
I have to meet him."
And she was blatant and aggressive and overt,
and she was going to find a patron.
I would see Kusama at the next opening
with a handsome, conventional young man
following behind her,
who had rented her the apartment or the equipment
or the materials.
She did everything there was to do to get ahead.
She was trying to get into Sidney Janis.
That was the number one gallery at that time.
One day, one of the boys came and said,
"Ed, I think your friend just sent some paintings over."
She had sent her paintings over.
Well, they refused it, so they sent it back.
About four hours later, here comes a lady
with one of these real minks,
and they said they'd like to see her paintings.
She had told them that she's in the gallery.
That was Yayoi.
A lot of artists couldn't get into the galleries,
so we started this co-op gallery, the Brata.
I arranged for her to have a show there.
Clark: See, that was the day of the abstract expressionist.
When she showed, her work looked so different
because there was that air.
Frank Stella: The paintings were quite tapestry-like,
but they had a wonderful tactile quality.
The impasto continued over the whole surface.
La Prade: Donald Judd reviewed that show.
His first line in the review is,
"Yayoi Kusama is an original painter."
He went on to talk about the paintings.
He really praised them.
Clark: Don was a sculptor and a critic.
A very serious reviewer.
Perry: I had a gallery in Washington.
Kusama appeared one day, completely unannounced,
with a young man.
He carried in one painting after another.
I'd never seen anything like it.
They had some kind of magic.
You couldn't stop looking at them,
and you didn't know where they were going.
They were hypnotic.
I was organizing an exhibition of contemporary Japanese art.
Yayoi was not well-known. She was nobody.
And these other artists were all men
and were very well-known.
There was an altercation at one point.
Perry: She tried to destroy the whole show.
It was bloody hell.
Stella: I went into most of the galleries,
and I saw Yayoi's paintings.
The one that stood out was the yellow one.
I saw New York in terms of yellow and black,
the combination of the taxicabs and the asphalt.
I just casually asked how much it was.
They said it was $75.
And I... You know, it seemed like a lot.
And the next week,
you know, it was preying on my mind, huh
'cause I really liked it and everything.
And after all, I said, "Okay, I'll do it."
And I paid $25 a week or something.
Morris: Joseph Cornell was a great, important artist.
Schneeman: Cornell was so inspiring and strange,
and deeply, deeply suppressed.
Munroe: He was a surrealist,
and he lived with his mother on Utopia Heights.
Cornell, during the years after his father died,
from a very young age,
was supporting his mother and disabled brother.
Munroe: They would talk on the phone and she would say,
"Joseph, I have to go now."
"And he said, "No, Yayoi, just put the phone down.
I'll wait for you to come back."
So Kusama would go out, completely forget about Cornell,
come back a couple of hours later,
find the phone on her bed, pick it up,
and Joseph would say, "Hi, Yayoi."
Marie Laurberg: When you do a painting of that size,
in some sense, it stops becoming a painting,
and it becomes a spatial universe.
Beate Sirota Gordon: Her health was always something
that she worried about a great deal.
And I suggested to her that she see a psychiatrist.
Morris: There's some thought she might have had
some traumatic experiences as a child.
She describes coming across her father
in a compromising situation. It's the sort of Freudian notion
that you respond to those kind of traumas
with kind of repetitive obsessional focus
on the object of your fear.
For Kusama, that fear, and she talks about it very explicitly,
was a fear of sex.
Yamamura: Her diagnosis is obsessive-compulsive neurosis.
Once something enters into her mind,
she cannot get rid of it.
Perry: She calls them the "penis chairs" herself.
She has a good eye for what catches attention,
and if she'd called them the "banana chairs,"
they probably wouldn't have been as interesting
to so many people.
Maybe so many people wouldn't have wanted to sit on them.
But I can tell you,
we have to fight to keep people off this chair.
Hanford Yang: You walk into this group show,
there was Rosenquist,
there's Donald Judd,
and Andy Warhol.
And yet your eyes always return to Kusama's couch.
Nobody bought them, but everybody was talking about it.
Yamamura: Claes Oldenburg had a stiff piece,
made out of papier mch. And it was a suit.
Male reporter: Oldenburg's loft is a factory where he works out
the problems of handling new materials in new ways,
with the help of his wife Pat and other assistants.
Yamamura: I don't think, until he saw Kusama's artwork,
he thought of actually creating a sculpture out of sewing.
It's very unmasculine.
Yamamura: Suddenly, he was an international star.
This really discouraged Kusama so much
because, you know, she also wanted to make her way up
with her soft sculpture.
That really made her depressed.
Zelevansky: The installation of the One Thousand Boats Show,
which is her first real installation work,
that was very innovative.
And what she does is she's covered a rowboat and its oars
with these stuffed, soft sculpture protrusions.
Then she has also photographed the boat,
and made a poster and covered all of the walls of the gallery
with that photograph,
so the boat is sitting in the middle
of the photographs of itself.
The idea of covering all of the walls
and creating an installation like that was very innovative.
Yamamura: She got very, very shocked.
She couldn't go out from her studio,
and she had to cover all her studio windows.
Clark: She didn't want no one to get her ideas.
Yamamura: She was living secretly
and creating a lot of sculptures.
Posner: Kusama was creating work of equal importance,
yet she wasn't getting the same backing.
Sexism plays a very major role in this.
And maybe racism as well.
Richard Castellane: She was taking away
your ability to focus,
breaking all boundaries of space.
The exhibitions that I had, in particular, The Peep Show,
that did the job.
It was an octagonal room,
and there were openings where you could stick your head in.
The ceiling of it
set up a series of lights.
The rhythm of that machine was, "Brrrrrr!"
When men started devoting themselves
to shooting rockets with themselves in them,
up into the stratosphere,
people became more conscious of infinity.
And she caught that.
There were many artists from the Renaissance on
who were involved with perspective and infinity,
but it was all a fake because you knew,
you the viewer, you were always aware that you were the master,
that it was a painting that was encompassed by a frame,
and the artist was playing with space,
but it wasn't enveloping you.
This was the great breaking point in art.
No longer are you, the viewer, the master.
She's the master.
Munroe: Lucas Samaras was active in the avant-garde,
radical art scene of New York in the 1960s.
In 1966, about seven months
after Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirror Room,
Lucas Samara shows a quite similar construction:
a room-like mirrored environment
at the far more established Pace Gallery.
That room was unlike anything Samaras had ever made before.
I think it's fair to say, unequivocally,
that Kusama was the first artist in New York or anywhere
to create a mirrored environment.
Wright: There is no question that she was not really
taken up by the establishment in the 60s
when she was doing all that incredible, innovative work.
I became so depressed one day,
and the next day, I became more depressed.
Sometimes, she would simply appear at the door,
and I would realize that she wasn't well.
And I'd take her upstairs and put her to bed
and look after her for whatever it took,
a week or ten days.
She needed to have somebody take care of her.
Zelevansky: By the mid-60s, Kusama is showing as much,
if not more, in Europe.
Posner: Selling your art for a few dollars
to anybody who comes by
is a very subversive idea.
Art is supposed to be expensive, precious, out of reach.
Zelevansky: She begins in this kimono,
and then when she's asked to leave,
she gets rid of the kimono.
And she is dancing around and lying amid the balls,
and there are all of these photographs of her in leotards,
with her artwork.
She was always aware of the publicity element,
and it gets a lot of attention.
Male reporter: In New York City, on 53rd Street,
stands the Museum of Modern Art.
Midori Yoshimoto: Kusama presented this happening
in the sculpture garden of MOMA.
Yoshimoto: Their performance lasted until a MOMA guard
started to expel them.
But it was really successful.
Jeanette Hart Coriddi: My friend Billy told me that I could
stay at this loft
if I allowed her to paint me.
And I was quite excited 'cause I'm thinking "portrait."
It never occurred to me that this literally meant
"paint you."
It's hard to define the expression in her eyes.
She was not looking at you as though you were a human being.
This was a thing that she was going to manipulate,
to color,
to position to where she thought it should be.
I was a runaway.
I felt much more comfortable with gay boys.
It was safer.
It's quite extraordinary to look back
and realize that Kusama was performing gay marriages
about 40 years ago.
Now I am making a movie,
which is named Kusama's Self-Obliteration.
Jud Yalkut: Kusama wandered into the Gate Theater,
and she came over and said,
"Do you want to shoot my happening when it's going on?"
And I agreed.
Gordon: She had won a prize in Belgium of this film.
She invited me to come to celebrate the opening.
I realized when I got to the box office
that we were not properly dressed.
Everybody was in black leather jackets
and all kinds of hippie-type of clothing.
I felt a little bit embarrassed, but we went in.
We had finished seeing the film and were ready to leave.
"Kusama said, "You can't leave now.
People are going to undress." So I told my husband,
and he said, "Well, let's go home."
And then I turned to my mother, and she said, "Let's stay."
And so we stayed.
Love, love, love, love
Love is what you need
Love, love, love, love
Love is what you need
You can't buy it You can't sell it
You can't change its name
But you can share it You can send it
Give it all the same
Love, love, love, love
Love is what you need
Love, love, love, love
Love is what you need
Love is what you need Love is what you need
Love is what you need Love is what you need
Love is what you need Love is what you need
Love is what you need Love is what you need
Joshua White: The threat of the draft was a big deal.
It was a big deal. Very different than anything
we're experiencing today.
Reiko Tomii: She said, "Nudity, it's such a beautiful thing."
Why do we have to send this beautiful body
to the war as soldiers?
She's against the war because of her wartime experience.
Yamamura: She wasn't absorbed
into this totalitarian government.
A lot of people were very much brainwashed.
Yamamura: When she did a lot of naked happenings,
and it's being written up in Japanese magazines,
the family was so ashamed that they went to every bookstore
on the day when the magazines were sold
and then bought everything, and then hide it in their house.
Posner: Nixon was reelected president.
The country became far more conservative.
And I think it just became more difficult for artists,
who were really pushing the boundaries as Kusama was,
to find a place to work and to function,
both artistically and economically.
The system is set up to support white male artists,
who were carrying on the tradition of modernism.
But there's also elements of the marketplace,
who the collectors are,
who the curators and museum directors are,
and who they feel most comfortable about promoting.
Kusama, who was a marginal figure in every way...
She was a woman, she was Japanese,
she was completely outside of this Western cultural sphere...
She did not get the same kind of support
that the male artists did.
Morris: The respect she had earned in the early 1960s
had been relatively dispersed
by her increasingly radical
and, I suppose, populist, attention-seeking activities.
So she was, you know, increasingly disorientated,
disillusioned and depressed.
She went home.
Lewis: In 1973, I turned on the television,
and Channel 28 was having a fundraiser,
which was an art auction.
I saw this piece by Yayoi Kusama,
so I bid $75,
and I waited, and then I heard that the next bid was $100.
About 20 minutes later, I got a phone call,
and they asked me if I was very serious
about purchasing this piece, so I said yes.
And it seems like the person who did purchase the piece was not.
He was just making a joke.
And at that time, I would be asking different curators
if they ever heard of Yayoi.
And most of them had not heard of her
or did not know what has happened to her.
Morris: To go back to Tokyo and to start from scratch again
was quite extraordinary because she wasn't known there,
and she hadn't been recognized, and she was a middle-aged lady.
Yamamura: This was the time when she was suffering most
from rejection of the Japanese art world.
The family wasn't there to support her.
That became a very, very bitter experience.
Morris: At a time she's lost her father,
I think there were obstacles of some mental health issues.
And so Kusama finds this hospital,
where the doctor is interested in art therapy,
and she checks herself in.
And from the security of that environment,
she's able to work again.
Morris: There is a need to fill the hours of every day
with activity,
and the activity that lent itself most easily
to her circumstances was collage.
Morris: From seeds to insects
to small, scary, supernatural creatures,
they're very dark.
And they come at a time when she's lost her father...
They're full of this imagery of natural life cycles.
Yamamura: She really had to start from scratch,
looking into galleries to exhibit her pieces.
What was very sad is
she had to rent this place in Matsumoto City,
where she exhibited her watercolors in 1952.
Munroe: Over the course of the late '70s and '80s,
Kusama had been obliterated from the histories.
What the Village Voice called "her lust for publicity,"
simply fell out of critical favor.
No museums and no galleries in New York
had shown Kusama's work in over 20 years.
She showed at the Fuji TV gallery,
and it was my encounter with her work,
sculptural work of the early to mid-1980s,
that really inspired in me the will and the conviction
that an exhibition of Yayoi Kusama
had to happen in New York.
We went to visit Kusama in Japan
and collected papers, documents, photographs, and publicity,
which featured a lot of nudity.
When I was bringing these boxes back,
I was stopped at the customs
because they thought I was carrying pornography.
And I had to argue with the customs guys
that actually this was art.
In 1989, I curated the exhibition
Yayoi A Retrospective
at the Center for International Contemporary Arts, or CICA.
Munroe: And it was a sensational exhibition.
Kusama had not been to the United States
since she had left in 1973.
We attempted a full retrospective
going back to her early watercolors from the '50s.
I went to the Venice Biennale.
At first, I thought, "Well, gee, look at that!
"That's Yayoi!" And there she was.
I was so glad to see her.
Munroe: For her to have the exhibition
for the 1993 Venice Biennale Pavilion
was an huge, huge transformation
of how Kusama was received and appreciated and recognized
within the Japanese art world.
Posner: So she went from crashing the party
and inserting her own work
without invitation or permission
to being the first Japanese woman
to represent Japan at the '93 Biennale.
Woman: Oh, I'm so glad to see you here.
Zelevansky: The exhibition that we organized
by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
was called Love Forever, Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968.
Zelevansky: Sometimes you can feel something,
almost like a tidal wave under your feet
when you're working on something,
and you know that this artist is gonna be big.
She's created this amazing situation for herself.
The studio is two blocks from the hospital,
so she just walks to the studio every day to do her work,
and then she returns to the hospital at night.
Morris: Clearly, the strains and stresses of life,
the memories, have forced her to withdraw.
But what she's always done,
she has always managed that process incredibly well.
And I think there's a sort of a managing madness about Kusama,
which is so utterly sane.
She's used her trauma to enormously productive ends.
She's celebrated all over the world,
so she has collectors all over the world,
and she has museum exhibitions all over the world.
Her work transcends boundaries.
It really does appeal to a very broad group of people.
Social media is, for sure, a very specific phenomenon
as part of her success.
She has had five million museum visitors since 2013.
And there's not one artist in the world
who has the same kind of audience.
She's officially the most successful living artist.
A stemless flower Sitting on my windowsill
And from this vantage point It's dying
Time passes on
Time, it moves past her
A thousand more dawns
And mornings after
I've been waiting
Such a long time
Such a long time
Like a sunset Sitting perfectly still
You think you're moving But you're idling
Standing in line
Awaiting the answer
There's no one behind
And no one before her
I've been waiting
Such a long time, love
Such a long time, love
Such a long time, love
This moment I'll seize it
And this time You know that I'll mean it
La la la la la la La la la la la la
I've been waiting
Such a long time, love
Such a long time, love
Such a long time, love
I've been waiting
Such a long time, love
Such a long time, love
Such a long time Such a long time
I've been waiting
Such a long...
Man: How long have you all been waiting?
- Few hours. - This isn't even
the end of the line. The end's around the corner.
Such a long time