is a plane figure with three straight sides and three angles. is a plane figure with four equal straight sides and four right angles. is a round plane figure whose boundary consists of points equidistant from a fixed point (the center).
© F. Melis Bagatır, RISD, Summer 2014
IN A COMPOSITION IN WHICH CORPOREAL ELEMENTS ARE MORE OR LESS
SUPERFLUOUS, THEY CAN BE MORE OR LESS OMITTED AND REPLACED BY
PURELY ABSTRACT FORMS, OR BY CORPOREAL FORMS THAT HAVE BEEN
Shapes 06 The Bauhaus and Design Theory ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, essay by J.Abbott Miller
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky THE MOVEMENT OF THE TRIANGLE
Kazimir Severinovich Malevich’s Black Square
Yayoi Kusama’s Polka Dots
SHAPES SHAPES ARE AT THE ROOT OF GRAPHIC DESIGN. THEY ARE FIGURES AND FORMS THAT MAKE UP LOGOS, ILLUSTRATIONS AND COUNTLESS OTHER ELEMENTS IN ALL TYPES OF DESIGNS.
From ancient pictographs to modern logos, shapes are at the root of design. They are used to establish layouts, create patterns, and build countless elements on the page. With graphics software such as Illustrator, creating and manipulating shapes is easier than ever, giving designers the freedom to create them at will. Anything that has height and width has shape. Unusual shapes can be used to attract attention. There are basically three types of shapes. Geometric shapes, such as triangles, squares, rectangles, and circles, are regular and structured. These shapes work very well as building blocks for graphic design. Natural shapes, such as animals, plants, and humans, are irregular and fluid. Abstracted shapes, such as icons, stylized figures, and graphic illustrations, are simplified versions of natural shapes.
Text ÂŠ Jim Krause, DESIGN BASICS INDEX, How Design Books, 2004.
WITH SHAPES YOU CAN:
SHAPE CREATION IN MODERN GRAPHIC DESIGN
Using shapes properly is one of the keys to successful graphic design. The form, color, size and other characteristics for the shapes in a layout can determine its mood and message. Soft, curved and rounded shapes are perceived differently than sharp, angled shapes. The “white space” or negative space left between shapes will also significantly impact a design. Experimentation and altering of shapes within a design can ultimately lead to the desired result.
• Crop a photo in an interesting
Current graphics software has transformed the way graphic designers can deal with shapes. Adobe Illustrator is the most useful tool for shape creation and manipulation. Simple shapes such as circles, squares and triangles can be created with a click and drag of the mouse. Adjusting lines and curves using the tools in Illustrator and similar programs can create more complex shapes, of limitless dimensions. Colors, patterns, opacity and other characteristics of shapes can easily be altered. It is important for designers to master the shape tools within their favorite software, as almost any shape that can be imagined can now be created.
way, such as in an oval. • Symbolize an idea. • Make a block of text more interesting by setting the text into a shape. • Create a new format. • Highlight information. You could add a screened or tinted shape to highlight important information.
THE BAUHAUS DESIGN THEORY IN 1923 KANDINSKY PROPOSED A UNIVERSAL CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE THREE ELEMENTARY SHAPES AND THE THREE PRIMARY COLORS.
In 1923 Kandinsky proposed a universal correspondence between the three elementary shapes and the three primary colors: the dynamic triangle is inherently yellow, the static square is intrinsically red, and the serene circle is naturally blue. Today, the equation has lost its claim to universality and works instead as a floating sign capable of assuming numerous meanings. The Bauhaus was a place where diverse strands of the avant-garde came together and addressed the production of typography, advertising, products, painting, and architecture. It become the mythic origin of modernism, a site alternately revered and attacked by the generations who have grown up in its shadow. The Bauhaus is at once the restrictive father whose laws we long to overturn, and the naive child whose utopian idealism floods us with fond nostalagia. Our amazement with its efforts to renovate designâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s formal and social potential is tempered by the sense that some fruitful directions were offered but not pursued, and that many avant-garde ideas were neutralized by the corporate culture they came to serve: the shapes and colors of have become the material of corporate logotypes. The Bauhaus was not a monolithic institution; like any school, it was a changing and often divisive coalition of students, faculty, and administrators, interacting with the often hostile community outside. The Bauhaus became equated with advanced thinking in design. The art of the Bauhaus legacy is the attempt to identify a language of vision, a code of abstract forms addressed to immediate, biological perception rather than to the culturally conditioned intellect Bauhaus theorists described this language as a system analogous to-but fundamentally isolated from-verballanguage. Visual form was seen. as a universal and transhistorical script, speaking directly to the mechanics of the eye and brain. Symbol design for Bauhaus Press, Laszlo Moholy-Nogy, 1923. The mark combines the circle, square, and triangle into on arrow like form. The design was used on stationery and advertising for the Bauhaus Press publications.
Thinking about design in a theoretically self.conscious way is one of the major contributions of the Bauhaus, and yet the schoolâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s focus on vision as an autonomous realm of expression helped engender the hostility towards verbal language which is common to post WWII design education. A renewal of design theory could reinvigorate the community of graphic designers.
Elementary School J. ABBOTT MILLER
Once upon a tim e there was a school not far from the Black Forest.... The Bauhaus has become the opening chapter to the narrative of twentieth-century design. It is the most widely known, discussed, published, imitated, collected, ex hibited, and cathected aspect of modern graphic, industrial , and architectural design. Its status as a founding moment of design has been strengthened by the adoption of its methods and ideals in schools throughout the world. The Bauhaus has ta ken on mythic proportions as an originary moment of the avant-garde, a moment when a fundamental grammar of the visual was unearthed from the debris of historicism and traditional forms. A central element of this “grammar” was-and continues to be . The repetition of this trio of basic forms and primary colors in the work of Bauhaus teac hers and students evidences the school’s interest in abstraction and its focus on those aspects of the visual which could be described as elementary, irreducible, essential, foundational, and originaty. The understanding of the Bauhaus as a point of origin is an effect of its reception within the history of art and design, as well as a reflec tion of its own ideals: Johannes Itten, who taught in the early years of the school, used unconventional teaching methods, hoping to “unlearn” students and return them to a state of innocence, a point of origin from which true learning could begin. This interest in the clean slate, the first moment, is evident in Wassily Kandinsky’s Point and Line to Plane: “We must at the outset distinguish basic elements from other elements, viz.-elements without which a work... cannot even come into existence.” 1 From its inception, the Bauhaus was premised on the notion of a return to origins in hope of discovering a lost unity. The school’s program, written by Walter Gropius in 1919, charted the institution’s mission of recovery: “Today, the arts exist in isolation , from which they can be rescued only through the conscious, co-operative effort of all craftsmen.... The ultimate, if distant, aim of the Bauhaus is the unified work of art....”2 A woodcut of a Gothic cathedral graces the cover of Gropius’s manifesto, invoking the historical moment when he felt this prior unity, fullness, and harmony had once been achieved.
Wassily Kanclinsky, POINT AND LINE TO PLANE (New York: Dover, 1979) 20. Ulrich Conrads, ed. PROGRAMS AND MANIFESTOES ON 20TH CENTURY ARCHITECTURE, trans. Michael Bullock (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1970) 49-53.
TRIANGLE A TRIANGLE IS ONE OF THE BASIC SHAPES IN GEOMETRY: A POLYGON WITH THREECORNERS OR VERTICES AND THREE SIDES OR EDGES WHICH ARE LINE SEGMENTS.
Triangles can be classified according to the relative lengths of their sides. Some triangle types are: equilateral triangle, isosceles triangle, scalene triangle. Triangles can also be classified according to their internal angles, they are measured in degrees (angle) 1. Triangles suggest action. They are dynamic. Triangles may convey either conflict or strength. Triangles can direct movement (up, down, left, right — depending on which way they ‘point’) but rather than moving themselves, they point the way for the reader. Triangles are suggestive of many different shapes and ideas. They can represent a religious Trinity, a pyramid, a flag or pennant, an arrow, a beacon.
SOME WAYS TO USE TRIANGLES: • To symbolize action or conflict.
point the eye to important information
In a logo, a triangle might be better
or act as an arrow to get readers to
suited to a growing, dynamic high
turn the page.
tech company than the more stable, familiar square, for example.
• To highlight, organize, or set apart information using a solid or outlined
• Related to the first bullet item, use
triangle. Use a triangle to suggest
triangles to suggest familiar themes
progression. Place it behind a ‘Top
(flag, pyramid, arrow or pointer).
10’ list or the steps to accomplish a
A single or a series of triangles can
A degree (in full, a degree of arc, arc degree, or arcdegree), usually denoted by ° (the degree symbol), is a measurement of plane angle, representing 1 ⁄ 360 of a full rotation. 1
WASSILY WASSILYEVICH KANDINSKY THE MOVEMENT OF THE TRIANGLE WASSILY KANDINSKY*
At the apex of the top segment stands often one man, and only one. His joyful vision cloaks a vast sorrow. Even those who are nearest to him in sympathy do not understand him. Angrily they abuse him as charlatan or madman. So in his lifetime stood Beethoven, solitary and insulted.
The life of the spirit may be fairly represented in diagram as a large acute-angled triangle divided horizontally into unequal parts with the narrowest segment uppermost. The lower the segment the greater it is in breadth, depth, and area. The whole triangle is moving slowly, almost invisibly forwards and upwards. Where the apex was today the second segment is tomorrow; what today can be understood only by the apex and to the rest of the triangle is an incomprehensible gibberish, forms tomorrow the true thought and eeling of the second segment.
How many years will it be before a greater segment of the triangle reaches the spot where he once stood alone? Despite memorials and statues, are they really many who have risen to his level? In every segment of the triangle are artists. Each one of them who can see beyond the limits of his segment is a prophet to those about him, and helps the advance of the
obstinate whole. But those who are blind, or those who retard the movement of the triangle for baser reasons, are fully understood by their fellows and acclaimed for their genius. The greater the segment (which is the same as saying the lower it lies in the triangle) so the greater the number who understand the words of the artist. Every segment hungers consciously or, much more often, unconsciously for their corresponding spiritual food. This food is offered by the artists, and for this food the segment immediately below will tomorrow be stretching out eager hands. This simile of the triangle cannot be said to express every aspect of the spiritual life. For instance, there is never an absolute shadow-side to the picture, never a piece of unrelieved gloom. Even too often it happens that one level of spiritual food suffices for the nourishment of those who are already in a higher segment. But for them this food is poison; in small quantities it depresses their souls gradually into a lower segment; in large quantities it hurls them suddenly into the depths ever lower and lower. Sienkiewicz, in one of his novels, compares the spiritual life to swimming; for the man who does not strive tirelessly, who
* Excerpt from Wassily Kandinsky, CONCERNING THE SPIRITUAL IN ART, Dover Publications, June 1, 1977
KANDINSKYâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S PYRAMID by M. Divine, 2002 Visual representation of the job of the artist, as mentioned in CONCERNING THE SPIRITUAL IN ART publication
does not fight continually against sinking, will mentally and morally go under. In this strait a manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s talent (again in the biblical sense) becomes a curse--and not only the talent of the artist, but also of those who eat this poisoned food. The artist uses his strength to flatter his lower needs; in an ostensibly artistic form he presents what is impure, draws the weaker elements to him, mixes them with evil, betrays men and helps them to betray themselves, while they convince themselves and others that they are spiritually thirsty, and that from this pure spring they may quench their thirst. Such art does not help the forward movement, but hinders it, dragging back those who are striving to press onward, and spreading pestilence abroad. Such periods, during which art has no noble champion, during which the true spiritual food is wanting, are periods of retrogression in the spiritual world. Ceaselessly souls fall from the higher to the lower segments of the triangle, and the whole seems motionless, or even to move down and backwards. Men attribute to these blind and dumb periods a special value, for they judge them by outward results, thinking only of material well-being. They hail some technical advance, which can help nothing but the body,
WASSILY WASSILYEVICH KANDINSKY / THE MOVEMENT OF THE TRIANGLE
as a great achievement. Real spiritual gains are at best under-valued, at worst entirely ignored. The solitary visionaries are despised or regarded as abnormal and ccentric. Those who are not wrapped in lethargy and who feel vague longings for spiritual life and knowledge and progress, cry in harsh chorus, without any to comfort them. The night of the spirit falls more and more darkly. Deeper becomes the misery of these blind and terrified guides, and their followers, tormented and unnerved by fear and doubt, prefer to this gradual darkening the final sudden leap into the blackness. At such a time art ministers to lower needs,
and is used for material ends. She seeks her substance in hard realities because she knows of nothing nobler. Objects, the reproduction of which is considered her sole aim, remain monotonously the same. The question “what?” disappears from art; only the question “how?” remains. By what method are these material objects to be reproduced? The word becomes a creed. Art has lost her soul. In the search for method the artist goes still further. Art becomes so specialized as to be comprehensible only to artists, and they complain bitterly of public indifference to their work. For since the artist in such times has no need to say much, but only to be notorious for some small originality and consequently lauded by a small group of patrons and connoisseurs (which incidentally is also a very profitable SCHWARZES DREIECK (BLACK TRIANGLE), 1923 Watercolour, pen and Indian ink on paper
business for him), there arise a crowd of gifted and skilful painters, so easy does the conquest of art appear. In each artistic circle are thousands of such artists, of whom the majority seek only for some new technical manner, and who produce millions of works of art without enthusiasm, with cold hearts and souls asleep. Competition arises. The wild battle for success becomes more and more material. Small groups who have fought their way to the top of the chaotic world of art and picturemaking entrench themselves in the territory they have won. The public, left far behind, looks on bewildered, loses interest and turns away. But despite all this confusion, this chaos, this wild hunt for notoriety, the spiritual triangle, slowly but surely, with irresistible strength, moves onwards and upwards. The invisible Moses descends from the mountain and sees the dance round the golden calf. But he brings with him fresh stores of wisdom to man. First by the artist is heard his voice, the voice that is inaudible to the crowd. Almost unknowingly the artist follows the call. Already in that very question “how?” lies a hidden seed of renaissance. For when this “how?” remains without any fruitful answer,
THIS “WHAT” IS THE INTERNAL TRUTH WHICH ONLY ART CAN DIVINE, WHICH ONLY ART CAN EXPRESS BY THOSE MEANS OF EXPRESSION WHICH ARE HERS ALONE.
there is always a possibility that the same “something” (which we call personality today) may be able to see in the objects about it not only what is purely material but also something less solid; something less “bodily” than was seen in the period of realism, when the universal aim was to reproduce anything “as it really is” and without fantastic imagination. If the emotional power of the artist can overwhelm the “how?” and can give free scope to his finer feelings, then art is on the crest of the road by which she will not fail later on to find the “what” she has lost, the “what” which will show the way to the spiritual food of the newly awakened spiritual life. This “what?” will no longer be the material, objective “what” of the former period, but the internal truth of art, the soul without which the body (i.e. the “how”) can never be healthy, whether in an individual or in a whole people. This “what” is the internal truth which only art can divine, which only art can express by those means of expression which are hers alone.
EQUILIBRIO, 1925 Watercolour, pen and Indian ink on paper
SQUARE SQUARES AND RECTANGLES ARE PROBABLY THE MOST COMMON GEOMETRIC SHAPES WE ENCOUNTER.
A square is a regular quadrilateral, which means that it has four equal sides and four equal angles (90-degree angles, or right angles). It can also be defined as a rectangle in which two adjacent sides have equal length. Squares and rectangles are probably the most common geometric shapes we encounter. A few books, especially those for kids, may be cut in irregular shapes but adult (i.e. serious) correspondence comes in squares – both the physical shape of the books, magazines, newspapers, and the rectangular columns of set text. Photographs and paintings are usually squares or rectangles. The square denotes honesty and stability. Squares are familiar, trusted shapes. Because the vast majority of the text we read is set in squares and rectangles, it has become familiar, safe, and comfortable.
SOME WAYS TO USE SQUARES: • To symbolize honesty, stability, equality, comfort, or familiarity. Consider the square shape of logos for the BBC, Adobe, and YouTube (with the round corners and a shape that suggests a television screen). On the flip side, squares could also symbolize rigidity or uniformity. • Related to the first bullet item, use repeating squares to suggest familiar themes (checkerboard pattern to represent a game board, the checkered flag at the end of a race, a tablecloth). • To highlight, organize, or set apart information using a solid or outlined box. Just don’t overdo the use of boxes because then they lose their ability to attract attention.
* Weisstein, Eric W. “Square.” From MathWorld – A Wolfram Web Resource.
KASIMIR MALEVICH’S BLACK SQUARE PHILIP SHAW*
Time has not been kind to Kasimir Malevich’s painting, Black Square. In 1915 when the work was first displayed the surface of the square was pristine and pure; now the black paint has cracked revealing the white ground like mortar in crazy paving. In 1916 the artist, in a characteristically bold and provocative mood, declared the square to be the ‘face of the new art ... the first step of pure creation’.1 Malevich gave his ‘new art’ a name, suprematism, announcing a few years later that ‘To the Suprematist the visual phenomena of the objective world are, in themselves, meaningless; the significant thing is feeling’.2
True to these principles, Black Square is radically non-representational. The slab of black paint that dominates the canvas works as grand refusal, repudiating nature in favour of abstraction. As such, the painting may be read in terms of the Kantian theory of the sublime. Favouring flatness over depth, Black Square conveys, in the words of Kant’s ‘Analytic of the Sublime’ (1790), ‘the feeling of displeasure that arises from the imagination’s inadequacy’ in an estimation of ‘formlessness’ or ‘magnitude’.3 The experience of viewing the painting thus involves a feeling of pain brought about by the
breakdown of representation followed by a powerful sense of relief, even elation, at the thought that the formless or massive can nevertheless be grasped as a mode of reason. In other words, the failure of the black square to represent this transcendent realm serves ‘negatively’ to exhibit
the ‘higher’ faculty of reason, a faculty that exists independent of nature. The Kantian theory does not, however, fully account for the significance of this work. Malevich himself regarded his minimalistic geometrical forms as the secular equivalents of Russian icons, a form of painting which aspires to present the divine as pure or unmediated reality. This idea is corroborated by a comment from the diary of the artist’s friend, Varvara Stepanova, dating from 1919: ‘If we look at the square without mystical faith, as if it were a real earthy fact, then what is it?’4 There is, however, another way to understand the sacred quality of Black Square. In the course of a comparison between Malevich’s square and the readymade art of his French contemporary Marcel Duchamp, the Lacanian theorist and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek makes the following observation: The underlying notion of Duchamp’s elevation of an everyday common object into a work of art is that being a work of art is not an inherent property of the object. It is the artist himself who, by pre-empting the ... object and locating it in a certain place, makes it
* Philip Shaw is Professor of Romantic Studies in the School of English at the University of Leicester and Co-Investigator of THE SUBLIME OBJECT: NATURE, ART AND LANGUAGE.
BLACK SQUARE, 1915 Oil on canvas, 106.2 x 106.5 cm (41 3/4 x 41 7/8 in); State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
KASIMIR MALEVICH’S BLACK SQUARE
a work of art – being a work of art is not a question of ‘why’ but ‘where’.5 What Malevich’s painting does is ‘simply render – or isolate – this place as such, an empty place (or frame) with the proto-magic property of transforming any object that finds itself in its scope’, even a black square of pigment, ‘into a work of art’.6 Through its stark distinction between the void of creation (the white background/surface) and the material object (the dark, material stain of the square), Black Square thus ‘expresses the artistic endeavour at its most elementary’.7 As Žižek goes on to state, the feeling of the sublime is experienced in the tension between the empty or ‘Sacred Place’ and the material object – the artwork – that appears in this place.8
FOOTNOTES Kasimir Malevich, FROM CUBISM AND FUTURISM TO SUPREMATISM: THE NEW REALISM IN PAINTING (November 1916). Quoted in John Golding, VISIONS OF THE MODERN BERKELEY AND LOS ANGELES: University of California Press, 1994, p. 177. 1
Kasimir Malevich, THE NONOBJECTIVE WORLD: THE MANIFESTO OF SUPREMATISM (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2003), p. 67. 2
Malevich’s discovery of black abstraction is sustained in American art produced in the aftermath of the Second World War. In black paintings by Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko we see a related preoccupation with the fraught relations between darkness and perception, with the obfuscation of vision as a principle of sublime incomprehension.
SELF-PORTRAIT IN TWO DIMENSIONS, 1915 Oil on canvas, 80 x 62 cm (31 1/2 x 24 3/8 in); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Immanuel Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGEMENT, trans. Walter S. Pluhar (Indiana: Hackett Publishing, 1987), pp. 114-15. 3
Quoted in MARGARITA TUPITSYN, MALEVICH AND FILM (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 9. 4
Slavoj Žižek, THE REAL OF SEXUAL DIFFERENCE, in Slavoj Žižek, Interrogating the Real, ed. Rex Butler and Scott Stephens (London and New York: Continuum, 2005), pp. 304-27; pp. 312-13. 5
Ibid., p. 313.
Slavoj Žižek, THE FRAGILE ABSOLUTE OR, WHY IS THE CHRISTIAN LEGACY WORTH FIGHTING FOR? (London and New York: Verso, 2000), p. 31. 7
BLACK SQUARE AND RED SQUARE, 1915 Oil on canvas, 71.4 x 44.4 cm (28 x 17 1/2 in); The Museum of Modern Art, New York
SUPREMATIST PAINTING, 1916 Oil on canvas, 88 x 70 cm (34 5/8 x 27 5/8 in); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
CIRCLE A CIRCLE IS A ROUND PLANE FIGURE WHOSE BOUNDARY (THE CIRCUMFERENCE) CONSISTS OF POINTS EQUIDISTANT FROM A FIXED POINT (THE CENTER).
The circle has been known since before the beginning of recorded history. Natural circles would have been observed, such as the Moon, Sun, and a short plant stalk blowing in the wind on sand, which forms a circle shape in the sand. The circle is the basis for the wheel, which, with related inventions such as gears, makes much of modern machinery possible. In mathematics, the study of the circle has helped inspire the development of geometry, astronomy, and calculus. Circles suggest infinity. They are also protective (think of protective encircling arms). They can also denote free ment such as a rolling ball or a more controlled movement such as a spinning globe.
The sense of movement is often enhanced through shading or the use of lines. Outside of logo designs, circles are less common elements of design that makes them good for grabbing attention, providing emphasis, and breaking up familiar rectangular blocks of text.
SOME WAYS TO USE CIRCLES: • To symbolize infinity and protectiveness. Circles could also suggest something well rounded or complete. Similar to protectiveness, circles could also imply security. • Related to the first bullet item, use circles to suggest familiar themes (bullet holes, a stack of cannonballs, a bunch of grapes – or just about any round fruit or vegetable, a target, the earth). • To highlight, organize, or set apart information using a solid or outlined circle. Try a freeform circle that looks like it was drawn with a marker or pen to highlight important text. • Replace the letter O or other ‘round’ letters in text with a circular shape that suggests that letter.
YAOYI KASUMA’S POLKA DOTS TIM ADAMS*
All art is attention-seeking, but few artists have ever taken their demands to be noticed to the extremes of Yayoi Kusama. Now 82, and resident by choice for the past 35 years in a psychiatric care home in her native Tokyo, Kusama is currently seeing all her wishes come true. Not only
has she been granted this obsessivecompulsive 14-room retrospective by the Tate, one of her careerdefining Infinity Net paintings sold for $5.1m in 2008, a record for a living female artist.
was seeing her visions, she was forced by her mother to spy on her father in bed with his string of mistresses and geishas. She developed a loathing of phallic images, and an overwhelming fascination with voyeurism.
Success did not come easily. Born in patriarchal and deeply conservative Japan of the late 1920s, even the idea of becoming an artist, as a woman, must have taken a supreme effort of will. To become an artist quite as liberated from convention as Kusama must have felt a lot like the insanity she has always feared – and to some extent nurtured – in herself.
Her response to these disturbing, formative forces seems twofold: she sought a kind of self-obliteration, covering herself and everything around her with her trademark polka dots – there is, among many other spotted surfaces, a fabulously spacey suburban living room here in which the edges of objects, sofas and tables are blurred by primarycoloured circular stickers, picked out in a psychedelic light. Elsewhere, mirrored “infinity rooms” take these points of colour into more dimensions than the eye can easily cope with. Almost nothing has been immune from Kusama’s dottiness: horses and cats, buses and houses, trees and fields and rivers, she has camouflaged them all. Damien Hirst’s outsourced efforts look decidedly spotty by comparison.
Her autobiography, Infinity Net, translated for this show, traces, with suitably dreamlike intensity, the web of influences that shaped her and her art. As a child, she claims to have experienced hallucinations, and nightmarish out of body experiences, which she subsequently attempted to describe in paranoid, vivid paintings alive with eyes and threatening organic forms, some of which, from the 1950s, make an alarming and expressive opening to the exhibition. She seems to have been drawn to surrealism, but given it a less playful, more psychologically unbalanced field, an edge perhaps explained by the fact that at the same age as she
* Tim Adams is a staff writer on the London Observer.
Alongside these identity-denying projects she also sought to overcome her phallic anxieties with a workaholic kind of aversion therapy. For a long period in middle age, she painstakingly stitched together apparently infinite numbers of “soft-sculpted” penises,
which, her autobiography suggests, she found perverse solace in lying down among. These forms, made from stuffed surgical-looking cloth, grow out of chairs and lamps, shoes and bookshelves. In one celebrated instance, Kusama covered an entire rowing boat with them, oars and all; the boat is given a room of its own here, complete with the 999 reproductions of the image which paper walls, floor and ceiling. Elsewhere, the teeming, faceless sock puppets create cacti-like forests, run wild, and coming at you from all angles – again, the psycho-dramatists of contemporary British art, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas, are made to seem somewhat lightweight in their neuroses. Kusama arrived in America, having corresponded with Georgia O’Keeffe, in 1957. By the early 60s, she was exhibiting alongside Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol, both of whom she seems to have influenced, with her manic exhibitionism as much as anything. The 60s in New York, the mix of underground promiscuity and hallucinogens, were waiting for her, in a way. She became a selfstyled shaman, organising orgies and happenings in which hippies lost and found themselves by painting one another’s nakedness with Kusama’s
INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013
YAOYI KASUMA’S POLKA DOTS
polka dots until the NYPD arrived, to clear up the mess. The human dotto-dot events were captured on films, which gained an arthouse following, and which are oddly compulsive viewing now as ethnographic documents – like those early films of the lost tribes of Papua New Guinea – evidence of another, hairier, time and place altogether. Kusama was a curator of these events, never a participant, except with a pot of poster paint; still, she
Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
returned to Japan in the early 70s carrying some of their generally good-natured lunacy with her, and checked herself into an asylum, where she has lived as an ostentatious recluse ever since. In recent years she has returned to painting canvases; large, vibrantly coloured pictures which play with her recurring vocabulary of eyes and roots and wriggling spermatazoa-like forms, and which taken together have a borrowed aboriginal quality. She came over for the opening of this show, a rare public sighting, and sat in her polka-dotted wheelchair, in her polka-dotted dress in the midst of all this colour, looking like a child in the internal landscape of her own making, half magic roundabout, half Freudian case study. You wouldn’t, you guess, want to live in this landscape full-time, but as a tourist destination, it certainly makes for a lively hour or so.
Picture on the right: Detail from INFINITY DOTS [OZSAI], 2007 Acrylic on canvas, 130 × 162cm
LOVE IS CALLING, 2013 Wood, metal, glass mirrors, tile, acrylic panel, rubber, blowers, lighting element, speakers, and sound. DOTS OBSESSION, 2000 Installation
Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, The ABC’s of Triangle Square Circle The Bauhaus and Design Theory, Princeton Press, Inc, 1991. Guggenheim Museum, Kandinsky, 2009. Jim Krause, Design Basics Index, HOW Design Books, 2004. Leonard Hutton Galleries, Kazimir Severinovich Malevich, 1995. Philip Shaw, Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square, in Nigel Llewellyn and Christine Riding (eds.), The Art of the Sublime, January 2013 Poppy Evans, Mark A. Thomas. Exploring the Elements of Design, Second Edition, Thomson Delmar Learning, 2008. Tim Adams, Yayoi Kusama – review, Tate Modern, London, The Observer, Saturday 11 February 2012. Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Dover Publications, June 1, 1977.
© F. Melis Bagatır RISD, Summer 2014 The main text is set in Baskerville 10pt with 14pt leading. DIN PRO as the display type.