Where’s Yayoi? An Exquisite New Children’s Book Turns Kusama Into a Whimsical Heroine for Kids

The book is penned by MoMA curator Sarah Suzuki.

A spread from the Museum of Modern Art's forthcoming book on Yayoi Kusama.

Japanese superstar Yayoi Kusama has secured a position as one of the most popular artists on Earth: Her museum exhibitions are sure-fire blockbusters, her art moves quickly at auctions, and she also plans to open a Tokyo museum devoted to her own work this fall.

Now, New York’s Museum of Modern Art seeks to cultivate the next generation of Kusama fans with Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity, a children’s book written for four- to eight-year-olds, created with the consultation of the artist’s studio.

The book is penned by Sarah Suzuki, a curator in the museum’s department of drawings and prints. The artist behind the book’s lavish, colorful illustrations is Ellen Weinstein, whose work has been featured in publications like the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

“I am such a huge fan of children’s literature, and I was a big reader as a kid, as I’m sure many of us were,” said Suzuki in an interview with artnet News. “It was a way of being in someone else’s shoes. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler [by E. L. Konigsburg] was my biography before I even knew it.”

Sarah Suzuki's Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity.

Sarah Suzuki’s Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity.

The Kusama book was conceived by Suzuki and organized with Charles Kim, associate publisher in the museum’s department of publications. Kim told artnet News that shortly after getting the go-ahead to publish the book about a year ago, and commissioning sample illustrations from Weinstein, a traveling show of the artist’s work was announced, so it seemed like kismet.

In just 26 pages, the book illustrates the artist’s childhood in Japan, where her love for art emerged. It covers her youth, where she chafed against her mother’s desire for her to follow a traditional path for Japanese women, and her early days in New York, including an inspiring visit to MoMA. The book concludes with a selection of photographs of her work, including one of her famous “infinity rooms,” featuring dangling LED lights inside a mirror-lined chamber.

Suzuki was also thrilled with Weinstein’s illustrations. “She plays beautifully with texture, even in areas of solid color,” she said. “It’s about being able to capture the spirit of an artist’s work without being imitative.”

A spread from the Museum of Modern Art's forthcoming book on Yayoi Kusama.

A spread from the Museum of Modern Art’s forthcoming book on Yayoi Kusama.

Some aspects of Kusama’s life and career, namely her mental illness and her provocative early performances, were ultimately deemed either too complicated to handle within the scope of a children’s book or inappropriate for the ages of the target audience, Kim explained.

“We of course talked about those subjects at length on many occasions,” he said, “and I think we came up with a sensitive treatment.” (The phallic shapes covering her furniture are referred to as “stuffed tubes.”)

“We really did wrestle with it,” Suzuki added. “Kusama has had many lifetimes as an artist. The crowds flocking to see the mirrored rooms may have no idea of her early life or how provocative her performances were. But the text is between 500 and 750 words, so realistically you can only treat so much.”

Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity will be a available in bookstores on September 26, 2017, and at each venue for the exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” as well as at MoMA.

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