Yayoi Kusama’s notorious dots are instantly recognizable. And now, you’ll be able to spot them on the streets instead of just inside museums, as the exalted artist is doing her own polka-dotted skateboards. MoMA has tapped her to create a series of 500 limited edition boards featuring renditions of her famous work, “DOTS OBSESSSION (2018),” exclusively available through their online design store.
Courtesy of MoMA Design Store
Born in Japan in 1929, Kusama made a name for herself in the early 1950s for her abstract paintings of those polka dots. After moving to the United States in 1957, she began creating her now infamous “Infinity Rooms” (currently on exhibit at The Cleveland Museum of Art) and staging offbeat happenings around New York City. Since 1977, she’s lived in the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill just outside of Tokyo, where she continues to paint regularly.
‘Phalli’s Field’ Infinity Room; photo by Eikoh Hosoe, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner, New York
In recent years, other artists have also lent their works to the skateboarding community, including Barbara Kruger, who teamed up with iconic skate shop and streetwear brand Supreme to create a series of “Don’t Be A Jerk” skateboards and skate ramps in 2017. But Kusama’s project will be her first (and potentially only) skateboard related ever – and they are all actually hand-painted by her. Originally, the boards were made from samples based on digital renderings of Kusama’s art work. But when they were shipped to the artist for final approval, she decided to paint over each one of them meticulously.
The skateboards will come in four different styles: two white boards with red dots (one large, one small), and two yellow boards with black dots (also in small and large sizes). Though the MoMA Design Store has not yet listed an official date for the drop, once they are available, we know they’ll sell out quickly. After all, if there are two types of people who like exclusives, it is definitely art collectors and skaters.
‘In Infinity’ by Kim Hansen, courtesy of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
That collaborations between artists and fashion designers occur presupposes that artists aren’t fashion designers and fashion designers aren’t artists. Things, obviously, aren’t so simple. Nevertheless, meaningful cross-fertilization is rare. “Often brands collaborate with artists to augment their cultural capital,” says Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT. “The result is often more arty than art.”
But in the best collaborations, the result is chimerical. Take the partnerships between Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali in the 1930s, or Yves St. Laurent’s Mondrian collection of 1965, which kept the painter’s spirit alive even though he had died a decade earlier. Perhaps the most striking recent example of this is Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with the reclusive Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
Kusama and Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs may have overlapped in New York City in the late ’60s when Jacobs was a fifteen-year-old stock boy and Kusama, then a mid-career artist, was riding the tail-end of Fluxus. They never met, and soon thereafter Kusama returned to Japan to live, voluntarily, in a mental institution. Jacobs, meanwhile, to put it mildly, moved up the ranks.
It wasn’t until 2006, when Jacobs visited the artist in her studio, that their collaboration appeared in the offing. “The fact that [Kusama] never veers from her vision is really admirable,” Jacobs says. Six years later, the result debuts in June: a collection of textiles, accessories, handbags, and footwear that are emblazoned with the polka dots with which Kusama has been obsessed since the 1950s. Collection highlights include precious silk dresses, a plastic trench coat, a bonded cotton coat, intricate charms, and a minaudière [ornamental case] reminiscent of the artist’s classic pumpkin sculptures. Perhaps the apotheosis of the collaboration is a pattern in which Kusama’s polka dots are fused with the Louis Vuitton logo. It’s neither simply art nor merely fashion. Instead, it confounds the separation between the two and creates a vital living hybrid.
Photo by Joshua Scott
So much of New York life is spent trying to gain entry into ever smaller rooms where, one imagines, the real party’s at. [This idea was floated in Jay McInernery’s Bright Lights Big City.] The joke is, usually that tiny room is just as boring as the others.
That is, until you visit The Whitney for the Yayoi Kusama retrospective which opens today.
There in a small room behind the lobby about the size of a closet. Visitors wait in line to spend one minute in there. There will be a line.when you go.
But once that door opens, infinity opens. The installation is entitled "Fireflies In The Water," it’s one of Kusama’s later works. From a mirrored ceiling hang hundreds of LED lights, reflected endlessly by the mirrored walls. Visitors stand on a gangplank extending over a shallow wall-to-wall pool of water. The experience is, to say the least, absolutely fucking mindblowing.
The rest of the exhibit is nice. I’m a big fan of Georgia O’Keeffe’s handwriting (the two artists exchanged letters) but Kusama’s polka dots don’t hold a candle to the ecstatic immersion on the first floor.
So go, wait, and be blown away.