When Kusama Came to Town
Fashion's all over Yayoi Kusama and her Louis Vuitton collaboration; do you know the Seattle side of the story?
If you've been within three feet of a fashion magazine in the last month, you know about the collaboration between octogenarian Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, Marc Jacobs, and Louis Vuitton.
Kusama is about as compelling as characters get, easing into and stirring up ideas about feminism, self identity, pop culture, pop life, and even lucidity (she has a permanent residence in a mental hospital, but leaves each day for her studio).
And her trademark style—dots, lots of them—is equally alluring.So even if there weren't a Seattle connection to this artist's life, we'd be happily drawn in by the windows at the downtown Louis Vuitton shop.
But as it turns out, our town figures prominently in Kusama's professional and creative beginnings.
I first saw a mention of this when W magazine previewed the Vuitton x Kusama July release in their June issue. The short passage, "With the help of a relative who had lived in Seattle, Kusama left Japan in late 1957, first to attend a gallery opening of her work in Seattle," sent me Googling.
On a Kusama-specific sub-site of Australia's Queensland Art Gallery, a timeline points to1955, the year she sent several pieces of her work to Kenneth Callahan, whom the QAG identifies only as a Seattle-based painter.
Callahan was also—along with Morris Graves, Mark Tobey, and others—a leading voice in what has come to be called the Northwest School, a movement influenced by and influential on abstract art, nature, and this wet, green, and supernaturally beautiful part of the world.
In other words, Kusama made a pretty adroit mailing.
Callahan died in 1986, so we can't ask him what he saw in Kusama's early work, but it isn't difficult to guess. The painter drew Kusama to Seattle—her first trip to the States—in 1957, and organized an opening at the Dusanne Gallery.
The Dusanne Gallery? What did we do before Google? As it turns out, Zoe Dusanne, an African American woman, opened Seattle's first modern art gallery in her home (are you with me Sierra Stinson?) at 1303 Lakeview Place. She showed Klee, Mondrian, Kandinsky, and Kusama. Dusanne died in 1972, though a book about her life establishes an on-going legacy. I would just about die to go back in time, visit her closet, and talk with her about Seattle on the eve of the '60s.
After her trip to the Northwest, Kusama moved to New York and began to establish herself, and from there her world unfolded. Would it be too romantic to say that from here her world unfolded?
The windows of the downtown Louis Vuitton store sport polka-dotted flower eyes and small leather pouches from the Kusama collaboration. The shop has carried the collection since it's July launch, and they'll receive more stock—bags, wallets, and shoes; they do not, unfortunately, carry the ready-to-wear pieces—when the collection relaunches in October.
Additionally, some of Kusama's work will be included in Elles, the female-themed exhibit at SAM which opens this fall.