Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, it’s been hard to miss the eye-catching Louis Vuitton takeover at Harrods. But who is the polka dot-obsessed 93-year-old artist at the heart of the initiative?
Meet… Yayoi Kusama
You may have spotted something a little unusual in Knightsbridge recently. “Spot” being the optimal word when talking about Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It’s her likeness depicted in a 15m statue “painting” her trademark colourful dots on the face of Harrods.
Fresh from its festive Dior takeover, Harrods has invited another French fashion giant to use its Grade II-listed facade as a blank canvas. Louis Vuitton x Yayoi Kusama is a groundbreaking new collaborative takeover, part of a global initiative that has seen the nonagenarian artist’s famous polka dots hand-emblazoned across hundreds of pieces of Louis Vuitton clothing and accessories. As well as the life-like statue, and a smaller one inside the Harrods window, the artist’s work is also being projected onto the department store’s façade in the first project of its kind – to mesmerising effect. Inside, thousands of dots fill the store, and there’s even a Kusama-inspired photobooth, claw machine and pop-up patisserie.
It’s a collaboration quite unlike anything else. But who exactly is Yayoi Kusama and – more importantly – what’s with all the dots?
Born in 1929, Kusama was raised in rural Japan. She started drawing pumpkins (a common emblem in her work) in primary school and became obsessed with dots from a young age following a series of childhood hallucinations. One of her earliest, at the age of 10, took the form of hundreds of flowers appearing out of nowhere with ‘uncanny expressions… chatting among themselves like human beings’. Kusama has an extraordinary and varied catalogue of work. As a multimedia artist, she has created immersive installations (of particular note are her influencer-adored Infinity Mirror Rooms, as seen at Tate Modern), as well as painting, sculpture, performance, film, writing and fashion. Dots are always at the centre of her work, whatever the medium, earning her the nickname “the princess of polka dots”. To her, these repetitive patterns express infinity and a way of becoming part of something bigger:
‘Our Earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos,’ she is quoted as saying. ‘Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment.’
Kusama had a turbulent childhood, marred by WWII, and her parents were unsupportive of her artistic ambitions. Nevertheless, she went on to study Nihonga painting at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in 1948. Despite early success in Japan, she felt stifled by the traditional artistic medium, as well as the conservative culture of her homeland. So, aged 27, she moved to New York City, inspired by the avant-garde movement of which she would become a central figure.
In a career spanning seven decades, Kusama has performed with Fleetwood Mac, made friends with Georgia O’Keeffe, inspired Andy Warhol, published novels and books of poetry and paintings, staged anti-war protests in New York, set up her own fashion line, and been the subject of a documentary film. And now she’s collaborated – for the second time – with one of the world’s preeminent fashion labels, which has taken her creativity to extraordinary new heights – and to the wider public.
Art in the area
Not only is the Victoria and Albert Museum on our doorstep, but also Knightsbridge is home to plenty of high-end contemporary galleries for art enthusiasts, would-be investors and browsers alike. On Brompton Road you can find Crane Kalman Gallery, which specialises in modern British art, including the whimsical paintings of L.S Lowry, as well as 20th century European and American paintings and sculpture. You’ll also find the groundbreaking ARX gallery in a four-floor space at 197-205 Brompton Road, which combines contemporary art and technology, championing both emerging and established artists (including those making waves in the NFT movement). Their aim is to create an ‘unprecedented immersive and interactive experience for collectors, artists, and art enthusiasts.’ And next time you’re in Harrods, you may end up with a priceless piece of art, as well as your usual Food Hall groceries and designer gear. Halcyon Gallery is a 5,000 sq ft gallery space filled with work from up-and-coming and world-famous artists, including Andy Warhol. The gallery believes in the ‘life-enhancing’ power of art and offers a comprehensive service, including art acquisition and advice on hanging and installation. The Leipzig Galleries, meanwhile, is full of priceless treasures, including celebrity-signed memorabilia, football shirts, movie posters and historical documents. The bespoke displays make incredible investments, or a great window-shopping experience.