Say Aaaah! Honolulu’s Breaking Out in Polka Dots

Mar 8, 2016

Classic Kusama from the "Dots Obsession" series
Credit Yayoi Kusama


Kusama's "Footprints of Life" has been installed previously in various locations including the 2011 Aichi Triennial and Taiwan's 2011 Taoyan Land Art Festival. It will be on view daily at Howard Hughes headquarters in Honolulu, in the IBM Building.
Credit Yayoi Kusama

 International attendance records in 2014 confirmed Yayoi Kusama as the world’s most popular artist, still, she is as mysterious as she is famous.  Her pieces often provoke giggles and audience participation, which makes the IBM building courtyard a conducive Honolulu venue.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports on Yayoi Kusama’s first showing here as a preview to the 2017 Honolulu Biennial.  

(l-r) HBF Artistic Director Isabella Ellaheh Hughes and Todd Apo, Vice President of Community Development for Howard Hughes Corporation in the courtyard of the IBM Building with the Kusama installation.
Credit noe tanigawa

  Todd Apo, Vice President of Community Development for Howard Hughes Corporation, says he’s now very excited about polka dots.  We’re here at headquarters in the IBM Building where Yayoi Kusama’s signature polka dots are proliferating already.

Kusama’s 15 piece “Footprints of Life” is being installed outdoors in the courtyard of the IBM Building, where social events like community cinema have been drawing a crowd lately.  Apo says, that’s what it’s all about.

“If you think about what makes community, it’s the energy that gets created around the village.”  In this case, Ward Village, where Apo says, “A piece like this was a great opportunity to introduce the arts and culture side into this community.”

Attracting an art world star like Kusama to the Honolulu Biennial was the first big accomplishment.  Conceivably, the high profile curator for the Honolulu Biennial, Fumio Nanjo, was instrumental there.  A Kusama studio assistant paid a site visit in 2015 and plans were laid to install “Footprints” as a prelude to the first Honolulu Biennial, March into May of 2017.

“Originally they had thought to actually hang some of the pieces from the brisole.”

Of the Ossipoff IBM building?  Isabella Hughes is Artistic Director of the Honolulu Biennial Foundation, HBF.  “But that of course would not be possible with the architectural history and delicacy of it.”

Still, Yayoi Kusama is known for commandeering spaces in her all-encompassing vision. 

Multi media artist Yayoi Kusama spans feminism, minimalism, pop art, performance, and installation art. And probably more. She also draws, paints and writes poems and novels.
Credit Yayoi Kusama

Senator Brian Taniguchi has introduced a bill supporting the Honolulu Biennial, knowing the excitement and commerce events like Art Basel generate.  “I’m hoping it’s the start of showcasing the art community here in Hawai‘i and provides citizens with some exposure to international arts.”

Kusama is unique in the global contemporary art world according to Jay Jensen, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Honolulu Museum.  She was a trailblazer in the 1950’s with the very first “happenings”.  In the ‘60’s, in an open letter to President Nixon, she offered to have athletic sex with him if he would end the Vietnam War.  She put polka dots and soft sculpture penises on many memorable surfaces.  A recent piece, the "Obliteration Room," was an apartment furnished fully in white, white walls, white piano, etc.  Visitors were given sticky dots to post as they chose, eventually turning the room into a miasma of colored dots.

“That’s what completes artworks, is when people view them and interact with them or experience them and think about them,” says Jensen.

In keeping with Kusama’s whimsical spirit, brunches, yoga, cocktail parties, and keiki classes will take place in and around the IBM building sculpture.   Find a schedule of events.

Kusama says a mental disorder has caused her to see polka dots on everything since she was a child.  After flaming out in New York, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo in the 1970’s and has continued breakneck production ever since. 

“And what’s really interesting for us at HBF is being able to highlight on the same platform an international artist and a local artist and the themes they’re exploring are quite complementary and there is really a dialog that Hawai‘i is relevant in the global perspective.”

As part of related programming, sculptor Charlton Kupa’a Hee will speak on themes he, Kusama and other global artists share.  Kusama spans genres like crazy, she’s feminist, Pop, minimalist, and commercial.  She is performance art, her persona as much a cleverly crafted production as anything else, though primarily these days, she paints.  Her pieces have titles like “Infinity Nets” and “I’m Here, but Nothing.”  The piece in Honolulu now is “Footprints of Life.”  Commuters along Ala Moana Boulevard can see a part of the installation leaking into street view.

“This was really important for Kusama, she wanted to engage with the site even more meaningfully rather than just have her artwork, and it’s sort of synonymous with her practice taking over also the outside spaces.  You can see right now from Ala Moana Boulevard, the black polka dots.  There’s some momentum building about this project!”

In a New York Times interview about this Honolulu installation, Kusama says, “I hope from the bottom of my heart, that my works born from this process will impress as many people as possible in Hawaii and touch their hearts.”

Yayoi Kusama will show a new piece for the Honolulu Biennial in 2017.

Brunch, yoga, keiki classes are among the activities planned around the Yayoi Kusama installation at the IBM Building on Ala Moana, open daily through May 12th.  

Kusama's "Footprints of Life" leaking onto Ala Moana Boulevard!
Credit Isabella Hughes