‘Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons’ at Aviva Studios.

Yayoi Kusama inflatable artworks wow at MIF

The exhibition at the Manchester International Festival by the enormously popular Japanese artist brings together works from the past 30 years, and offers audience a first look inside the new Aviva Studios space

Audiences are dwarfed by the works in the show, with many standing over 10 metres tall. Fans of Kusama’s art will recognise the recurring visual motifs in her work, with the show featuring psychedelic, polka-dotted forms, a giant pumpkin, and a mirrored infinity room housed inside a large inflatable dome.

There are also giant inflatable dolls, which emphasise the echoes of Alice in Wonderland in the show, with Kusama herself describing the experience as such. “It would be interesting if people would experience the show as a wonderland,” she says in an interview in the exhibition catalogue. “The experience of the scale is what’s important. Inflatable works expanded my creative means in terms of scale that could not have been achieved by stuffed soft sculptures, and the freedom of placing them up in the air.”

Kusama Manchester International Festival
Top: A Bouquet of Love I Saw in the Universe; Above: Dots Obsession; All images © David Levene
Yayoi_Kusama_The_Hope_of_the_Polka_Dots_Buried_in_Infinity_will_Eternally_Cover_the_Universe_2019._Installation_view_Fosun_Foundation_Shanghai._Courtesy.cc63c4e copy
The Hope of the Polka Dot Buried in Infinity will Eternally Cover the Universe

The show is housed in the Warehouse space at the new permanent venue for Factory International, which creates the biannual Manchester International Festival across the city. Opening officially in October, the recently renamed Aviva Studios will launch with a major new immersive performance piece based on The Matrix films and directed by Danny Boyle.

While the building work is still unfinished, the Kusama show offers audiences a first glimpse of the scale of the new venue, which has been designed by Ellen van Loon of OMA. It is built around large, adaptable spaces that can be reconfigured, with the Warehouse space standing at 21 metres high, and able to house up to 5,000 people standing. It is the perfect space to show off Kusama’s massive works to their full extent.

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons at Aviva Studios
Installation view of Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons at Aviva Studios
Yayoi Kusama Manchester International Festival

Kusama’s work has been immensely popular in recent years, with her installations booked out in weeks in advance, and a recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton showing how effortlessly her effervescent imagery can translate into a commercial sphere.

This popularity and the fact that her work is so eminently Instagrammable can belie the longevity of Kusama’s life and career and the many boundaries and obstacles she has faced, including criticisms and rejection from the art world, and her own mental health challenges, which led her to admit herself into a psychiatric hospital in Japan in 1973 where she still resides today.

Alongside the inflatable works, the exhibition features a video work titled Song of a Manhattan Suicide Addict, which shows Kusama singing about her experience of depression. There is also a series of cloud sculptures scattered on the floor, where visitors are encouraged to sit or lie, which offer a moment for reflection.

The overall mood though is of optimism and wild imagination. “For me, the world is genuinely full of surprises,” continues Kusama. “It is not that I want to inspire a childlike awe or wonder, but to inspire through my genuine perception of the world.”

External view of Aviva Studios
External view of Aviva Studios

Yayoi Kusama: You, Me & The Balloons is on show at Aviva Studios until August 28; factoryinternational.org