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Persistence of Vision: Documenting Yayoi Kusama’s Art and History

"This is the story of a trailblazer who had to overcome sexism, racism, and mental illness to pursue her dream of being an artist."

“When I first saw Kusama’s art, I felt an instant connection to it,” says Kusama—Infinity director Heather Lenz

Yayoi Kusama has created a legacy of artwork that spans the disciplines of painting, sculpture, installation art, performance art, poetry, and novels.

“This is the story of a trailblazer who had to overcome sexism, racism and mental illness to pursue her dream of being an artist,” Lenz says about her documentary. “I hope people will find the film inspiring.”

The career of artist Yayoi Kusama, says Andrew Parker, “is fascinating, infuriating, harrowing, and even a little bit hopeful, and it’s eloquently outlined by filmmaker Heather Lenz.

“Lenz’s fascination with Kusama began during her studies in art school,” Parker continues, “and making a film about Yayoi became a passion project for the filmmaker that took nearly a decade to see to completion. 

“Talking with Kusama, art world professionals, and some of those closest to her, Lenz delivers a captivating account of a life that deserves as much recognition as the art that has been produced during the course of it.” To read the full article, click here.

Kusama—Infinity—well over a decade in the making—is a satisfyingly thorough look at the life and work of this influential artist, tracing the inspirations, obsessions, passion, and psychological trauma that informs every aspect of her art,” says Christopher Bourne. “Kusama’s work spans across an amazingly diverse array of media: installations, painting, sculpture, film, literature, performance art, fashion design. Kusama, however, is best known for the iconic polka dots that are the signature motif of her work, which spring directly from the hallucinations that she began experiencing as a young girl.” To read the full article, click here.

“Her art at the time was always for a select audience of people who were fortunate enough to find it,” Lenz tells Parker. “It was never anything close to mainstream. But with the film you can share things with people in a way that a broader audience can see; the kind of audience that might not want to go searching in obscure art books and that sort of thing. 

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“It was always my hope that the film would appeal beyond art enthusiasts. It’s easy to understand a film about someone pursuing their dreams and all the obstacles one has to overcome.” To read the full article, click here.

“The film witnesses Yayoi Kusama moving from obscurity in late 1950s New York City to international fame in recent years as the top-selling female artist in the world—all while living for the last 40 years in a mental institution,” says Stephen Zacks. “More than two million visitors attended Kusama’s traveling 2013–15 Infinite Obsession retrospective in South America, with Infinity Mirrors launching last fall and gaining a similarly massive reception in the United States. Endless lines snaked around the block at her recent show at David Zwirner gallery in Chelsea. 

“The film heightens the emotional resonance of this story with glimpses into her everyday life in Tokyo, where devoted assistants aid the 88-year-old artist in creating works composed of infinite matrixes of dots that are perfectly suited to the social media age.” To read the full article, click here.

“Kusama is a wonderful combination of sensitivity and the power that comes with success,” Lenz tells Seana Stevenson “Spending time with her was a privilege. I loved hearing her stories first hand. I particularly liked hearing about her experience during WWII, it made history so interesting. I really admire her tenacity and I’m thrilled that she is now getting the recognition she deserves.” To read the full interview, click here.

Conducting interviews for the film, Lenz tells Oakley Anderson-Moore, “I had a translator, and for the first interview, we came up with what we thought was pretty clever. We had one camera for when we were recording her and then we had this really long cable going to someone in another room with another camera. That person was watching on a monitor and listening. I had something in my ear, so I was getting real-time translation of what she was saying. 

“And then we recorded both of those for any editors who didn’t speak Japanese. The first editor did speak Japanese, as did the last, but over the years, we worked with different people.

“We did it like that sometimes, and then other times I just had someone sitting next to me. It wasn’t quite as good because then the person speaking Japanese—sometimes Kusama, sometimes other people, they might talk for ten minutes, five minutes and then the person would have to quickly catch me up what they said. It’s not as good as having a real-time translation.” To read the full article, click here.

“Part of the reason I love documentaries and biopics is because they delve into the lives of unusual and compelling people and allow us to learn something outside of our own life experience,” Lenz writes. “Kusama isn’t just a brilliant artist, she is a wonderful role model for anyone who has dared to dream big and encountered obstacles along the way, overcoming racism, sexism and mental illness on her journey to fame. That’s what I find so inspiring about her. “