October 9, 2012  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions
Yayoi Kusama’s Return to MoMA

Front page of the Daily News with a photograph of Kusama’s “Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead” at MoMA, August 25, 1969

When The Museum of Modern Art undertook the exhibition Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958–1972 in 1998 we thought that we were giving this great artist her first exhibition at MoMA. Kusama quickly disabused us of this, by reminding us that in August of 1969, unbeknownst to the Museum, but absolutely known to the Daily News and other media outlets who received press releases, she and a bevy of naked performers had staged “Grand Orgy to Awaken The Dead at MoMA” in the fountain in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum. Then, as now, Kusama called this her first “one man show at The Museum of Modern Art.”

Love Forever was the first occasion that the Museum exhibited Accumulation No. 1, Kusama’s first and best known sculpture in a series that would continue for her entire career. Created in 1962 in a downtown loft located in the same building as the studio of her friend, the artist Claes Oldenburg, Kusama claimed that Accumulation No. 1 was the inspiration for Oldenburg’s subsequent soft sculptures. This is open to debate, but there is no doubt that this domestic object covered in phallic protrusions made of fabric and stuffed with cotton was a unique and early example of soft sculpture.

Installation view of the exhibition Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958–1968, July 8, 1998–September 22, 1998

Richard Bellamy, director of the Green Gallery included Accumulation No. 1 in a group exhibition in 1962 that included work by Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, George Segal, and Andy Warhol, which was considered the first Pop art show in the U.S., and the work was also cited by Lucy Lippard as an example of “eccentric abstraction,” in her groundbreaking book of the same name that was published in 1966.

Yayoi Kusama’s Accumulation No. 1. soft sculpture exhibited in a group show at Green Gallery, New York, 1962. © 2012 Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

Yayoi Kusama. Accumulation No. 1. 1962. Sewn stuffed fabric, paint, and chair fringe. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. © 2012 Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

With their humorous, sexualized transformation of domestic objects beginning with furniture, but spreading eventually to clothing, shoes and even kitchen equipment, Kusama’s Accumulations represent a remarkably prescient example of contemporary art that wrestles with issues of gender. This aspect of the Accumulations shocked male contemporary art critics of the time who—too embarrassed to acknowledge their explicit expression of female rage at male domination—described them with anodyne art-speak phrases like “the semantics of mono-surfacing.” Even today, a work like Accumulation No. 1 is much more disturbing to look at than the Infinity Net paintings with which it was often exhibited. Equally recognizable as a signature work by Kusama, Accumulation No. 1 is arguably more revolutionary in form and challenging in content than its painterly counterparts.

Accumulation No. 1 has been in the same collection since its creation as it was purchased directly from the artist at the time of its making by Beatrice Perry, Kusama’s first and most passionate art dealer and advocate. As a result, it retains its original stuffed protrusions and painted surface. Because it has not been heavily restored, it is rare among Kusama’s sculptures from the same period. The Museum had been in dialog with Ms. Perry since the 1998 exhibition, and after her death last year, the Museum was given the opportunity to add this masterpiece to our already deep collection of Kusama’s work, which also includes a white Infinity Net from 1959, two sculptures from the past 20 years, two prints, a photo-collage, and 11 drawings.

Yayoi Kusama with sculptures in her New York studio, 1963–4. © 2012 Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

Accumulation No. 1 will go on view in our fourth-floor Painting and Sculpture Galleries sometime in late October so that our visitors can experience this splendid and still strange object.