Retrospective

From the Archives: Donald Judd on Yayoi Kusama’s First New York Solo Show, in 1959

Yayoi Kusama, installation view of Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field, 1965, in "Floor Show," Castellane Gallery, New York, 1965, sewn stuffed cotton fabric, board, and mirrors.©YAYOI KUSAMA/COURTESY OTA FINE ARTS, TOKYO AND SINGAPORE; VICTORIA MIRO, LONDON; AND DAVID ZWIRNER, NEW YORK/EIKOH HOSOE

Yayoi Kusama, installation view of Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field, 1965, in “Floor Show,” Castellane Gallery, New York, 1965, sewn stuffed cotton fabric, board, and mirrors.

©YAYOI KUSAMA/COURTESY OTA FINE ARTS, TOKYO AND SINGAPORE; VICTORIA MIRO, LONDON; AND DAVID ZWIRNER, NEW YORK/EIKOH HOSOE

With a show of Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Rooms” having opened at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. this week, we turn back to the October 1959 issue of ARTnews, in which Donald Judd reviewed Kusama’s first New York solo show. (Kusama, who had already had solo shows in Kyoto, and Judd would date soon after.) At that time, Kusama had not yet branched out into making installations—she produced abstract paintings then, and Judd praised them as “original” and “advanced in concept.” Judd’s review follows in full below. —Alex Greenberger

“Reviews and previews: new names this month”
By Donald Judd
October 1959

Yayoi Kusama [Brata; Oct. 9-29] is an original painter. The five white, very large paintings in this show are strong, advanced in concept and realized. The space is shallow, close to the surface and achieved by innumerable small arcs superimposed on a black ground overlain with a wash of white. The effect is both complex and simple. Essentially it is produced by the interaction of the two close, somewhat parallel, vertical planes, at points merging at the surface plane and at others diverging slightly but powerfully. The merger is achieved by whitening the interstices of the arcs; the divergence by enlarging the breadth of the strokes somewhat and leaving the grey plane untouched. When the size of the arcs is diminished sections of the white plane retreat slightly, and vice-versa. Yet frequently small, dense arcs maintain the surface; the small curves coalesce into longer arcs, swell or shift slightly, or form amorphous patterns or partial vertical bands. The strokes are applied with a great assurance and strength which even a small area conveys. The total quality suggests an analogy to a large, fragile, but vigorously carved grill or to a massive, solid lace. The expression trancends the question of whether it is Oriental or American. Although it is something of both, certainly of such Americans as Rothko, Still and Newman, it is not at all a synthesis and is thoroughly independent. Miss Kusama, who is thirty, has had a number of shows in Kyoto and came here two years ago. Prices unquoted.

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