"My sofas, couches, dresses, and rowboats bristle with phalluses,” Kusama once said. The “phalluses” to which she refers are swatches of cotton duck canvas, stuffed with cotton and coated with enamel paint—the same materials used by the most celebrated men of the New York avant-garde, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. The plump armchair in Accumulation No. 1—Kusama’s first sculpture—bursts with limp phalluses of varying lengths. In keeping with the repetition so central to her process, she hand-sewed each one of these protrusions. Critics were shocked by her humorous, sexualized transformation of an ordinary domestic object. Kusama explained that she “began making penises in order to heal my feelings of disgust towards sex. Reproducing the objects…was my way of conquering the fear.” It was also her way of disempowering the repressive patriarchal society she left behind in Japan and the machismo that then dominated the New York art world.
Additional text from In The Studio: Postwar Abstract Painting online course, Coursera, 2017