Look at This! ‘Yayoi Kusama: Drawings From the Mid-50s’ at D’Amelio

Pastel, watercolor and ink, 14 1/8 x 10 inches
Courtesy D'Amelio Gallery, New York
Pastel and tempera with black ink on red paper, 10 1/2 x 10 inches
Courtesy D'Amelio Gallery, New York

One of the nicest surprises among Chelsea’s season openers is a handsome one-room display of 12 early drawings by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at D’Amelio. They date from the start of her career in Japan, from 1953 to 1957, and show Ms. Kusama beginning to explore some of her trademark images, like obsessive, unwieldy fields of dots and high-pitched colors.

Ms. Kusama moved to New York in 1958, reportedly carrying with her some 2,000 drawings and watercolors. There’s the feeling of very late Surrealism giving way to some funkier, odder brand of Abstract Expressionism in these works—some Gorky breeding with the bizarre abstractions that Picabia was making in the 1940s and early 1950s.

All of the drawings were at one point in the collection of New York dealer Richard Castellane, who did three shows with Ms. Kusama in the 1960s. Grace Glueck offered a look at her 1964 show at his gallery in The New York Times:

Miss Kusama had also strewn the gallery floor (and festooned some mannikins) with shards of uncooked macaroni which crackled underfoot and crept into visitors’ shoes.

Miss Kusama was at no loss to explain her work. “I have obsessions,” she said. “I feel absolutely driven to make visible the repetitive images images inside of me. The macaroni, for instance, expresses my food compulsion. When I was a child, I used to tear clothing, papers, books into thousands of pieces. I fluctuate between feelings of reality and unreality.”

D’Amelio’s show runs through Oct. 20. The Whitney’s Kusama retrospective closes Sept. 30.

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