“Kusama – Infinity” Attempts to Give Yayoi Kusama the Film She Deserves

By Claire Brown
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

In life, the human condition can be explained by the attempt to create a legacy that will outlast our time here on earth. The documentary “Kusama – Infinity,” written, directed and produced by Heather Lenz, attempts to understand one artist who has been able to succeed in creating that long-lasting legacy for herself. Heather Linz has worked on various projects in television and film. Along with being a researcher for The History Channel and Food Network, the first documentary she made, “Back to Back,” was nominated for a Student Academy Award.

This documentary is about a now 88-year-old Japanese contemporary artist named Yayoi Kusama, whose medium includes sculpture, installation art, painting, performance, film, fashion and poetry. Kusama is most well known for her abstract dot paintings and Mirror/Infinity rooms. She spent most of her life doing the art that she loved, even if the world wanted nothing to do with her. Themes of racism, sexism, struggle and perseverance, make this an inspiring tale for artists and activists alike.

“Kusama – Infinity” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary competition. The doc follows Kusama from her early life growing up in a rural city of Japan, (Matsumoto, Nagano), her early correspondence with Georgia O’Keeffee, inspiring her to become a part of the New York art world, then following Kusama back to Japan where she is now living in a mental hospital and working on her art pieces at a nearby studio.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Kusama was heavily involved in the anti-war movement in the 1960’s. Interviews with Kusama reveal her influences for becoming an activist against violence, having grown up through air-raids during WWII Japan, and the hardship that had on her young life. Further into her career she would put on naked war-protest rallies with some of her art friends on the streets of New York City. These rallies attempted to put an emphasis on the perfection of the human body, and how war manipulated the body to spread hate instead of love.

The doc presented a surface-level background on Kusama, and I was left wanting to know more about her inspiration and inner struggle. The doc mentions Kusama’s “Phallic Furniture” sculptures made during her time in New York. She made these by sewing phallic figures made of fabric onto couches and chairs. It was interesting for the doc to mention such odd sculpture in the art world at that time, but was reluctant to dig into her motive behind these oddly sexual sculptures.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

This documentary made use of real-time interviews with Kusama and various art historians, pictures throughout her career, pictures of her artwork, as well as some old videos of Kusama herself in New York. This doc didn’t seem to use any contemporary to stylistic choices when presenting Kusama’s biography. It made material from Kusama’s past understandable and educational, but the audience’s ability to emotionally connect with Kusama wasn’t very apparent throughout the story. The lack of a compelling soundtrack added to this feeling on nonchalance within the hour-long movie.

The doc explores the depth of symbolism in the word ‘infinity.’ For Kusama, it meant striving for an endless life after two suicide attempts. For the art world, it meant the ability to dissolve into an infinite world while viewing her work.

“Kusama – Infinity” was picked up by Magnolia Pictures, an American film distributer specializing in foreign and independent film, who also owns the rights to “Food, Inc.”(2009) and “The Square,”(2017).

This article was originally published on February 5, 2018.