Walking the Road of Matsumoto Artist Yayoi Kusama: Special Exhibition at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art

Sun, Sep 4, 2022


Yayoi Kusama has become a world-renowned figure over the course of her long life as an artist. Her road began when she was a child growing up among the fields and the mountains of Shinano – the traditional name for this part of Japan where Matsumoto lies. Matsumoto has in turn made Kusama’s work the center of attention at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art.

Note: This post was published when the special exhibit Yayoi Kusama Hanga was open to the public. The exhibit has since ended, as did my permission to include photos from the exhibition in this post. But many of artist Yayoi Kusama’s works remain on display in the collection gallery on the 3rd floor of the Matsumoto City Museum of Art.

Kusama’s work is showcased in a collection gallery, but for a limited time the museum is holding a special exhibition of her work titled Yayoi Kusama Print Works


I’d seen the collection exhibition before, most recently just two months ago on another work-related jaunt. So really, with an admittedly passive attitude toward art in general, I didn’t know what more I’d garner from the work and, by extension, the person of Yayoi Kusama. But there I was at the museum once again, heading for this special exhibition, head full of visions of spotted pumpkins and curious wonderment.


What That Spotted Pumpkin Said To Me

The first piece I came to was, like a lot of art I encounter, mildly interesting but seemingly ultimately meaningless; an image of a single shoe, the pointy-toed kind a witch might wear, with a sprig of greenery that runs through two of the shoe’s eyelets. Reading the title of the piece – “Going to the Field with Shoes On” – I envisioned a child running playfully through a field. Unimaginative, maybe, but that’s what I got from it. Then I read the words printed on the wall, the story of Kusama’s childhood in her own words, and I got my first real glimpse into her life and the origins of her art.

Kusama’s “Hanga” prints make up the bulk of the exhibition. On the walls lining the early stages of the generous display are groups of prints; several representations of the same thing, only in different colors. A hat. A pair of shoes. A bunch of grapes. Simple objects, seen in the home or outside one’s window. Or, in a few cases, a combination of these: a lizard and a cake, an alligator with a bonnet. All very colorful. And somehow beginning to make sense.

Then suddenly I found myself staring at walls of monochrome flowers. It was jolting, really, though with one constant: each of Kusama’s works is injected with lines and dots and detailed features that do not exist in the real world. Common objects marked by cracks, and hectic lines, and confusion, leading this nascent art critic to wonder how Yayoi Kusama has seen the world around her all her life.

By the time I came upon the series of prints of Kusama’s famed spotted pumpkins my artistically-uneducated mind had shifted into high gear. A piece of art can be interpreted in as many ways as there are people who lay eyes upon it. Yet how many interpretations can there be of a yellow squash with black spots all over it? And how many of those might be anything beyond superficial?

Knowing the artist behind the piece, and the story behind the artist, the meaning and thus one’s interpretation deepens. Yet we apply that meaning to our own unique experiences, leading to an interpretation that brings us not closer to the artist, but closer to ourselves.

All this from a spotted pumpkin.


Beyond Recognizable Objects & Back to the Real World

On I walked, slowly, past images of black, beaded strings running off into oblivion; circles, or bubbles maybe, crowded so as to leave no space or air between them; interlocking geometric shapes that to me seemed to want to move but were stuck in place, maybe forever; walls of a cavernous room filled with lines that seemed both precise and awash in confusion. These I saw as a part of Kusama’s story, though with no particular significance to mine. Thirty minutes ago I would have seen little in any of it.

In a smaller room a short film shows Kusama at work, her own voice narrating her thoughts as she draws lines and dots on a sprawling canvas with a simple black marker. Watching her, it’s hard to tell if there is any forethought in what she is creating or if it is the monochrome manifestation of a stream of consciousness.

The third floor of the museum holds additional works incorporating a variety of media: wood block prints of Mt. Fuji; lights, mirrors, and mosaics; a corridor lined with polka-dotted cloth protrusions. Also displayed are few pieces Kusama created over fifty years ago. They are, to the untrained eye, unrecognizable as Kusama’s work.


The exhibit ends with a yellow room in which sits a mammoth yellow squash, and a final essay by Kusama titled “Resplendent Road”. Spelled out in words both soaring and heavy are her thoughts of walking the roads and fields of Shinano and, in turn, the path of her life’s journey.

Take a few minutes to read this final offering by Yayoi Kusama. Just as you may have discovered exploring her art, you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the artist while, perhaps, and perhaps without intention, looking at your own life’s road.

If nothing else, you’ll never look at a spotted pumpkin the same way again.