The Art Angle Podcast: How Yayoi Kusama Became an Unlikely Pop-Culture Phenomenon

In our latest podcast episode, art critic Ben Davis tracks Yayoi Kusama’s decades-long journey to mainstream fame with host Andrew Goldstein.

Yayoi Kusama. Photo © Yayoi Kusama, courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join host Andrew Goldstein every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

The 90-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is an international sensation. Exhibitions featuring her ongoing series of “Infinity Mirrored Rooms” consistently draw tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of visitors from all walks of life, with many enduring multiple-hour wait times for the opportunity to spend as little as a single minute inside the installations (and almost undoubtedly using much of that hard-won time to snap an obligatory selfie). 

Now, the Kusama phenomenon is electrifying New York once again this holiday season—and at an unprecedented new scale. David Zwirner is currently in the midst of “Every Day I Pray for Love,” a solo show by the artist that has been magnetizing nearly 2,000 visitors a day to its West 20th Street gallery in Chelsea. And later this week, Kusama’s work will be beamed to an estimated 23 million viewers around the globe in the form of a monumental artist-designed hot-air balloon that will soar through the streets of Manhattan as a part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. 

Yet such widespread popularity seems even more incredible to the much smaller group of aficionados familiar with Kusama’s artistic and personal trials, as well as the often challenging, even unsettling, themes under the Instagram-friendly surface of her works. 

So how did a career that began with guerrilla performances and protest pieces wind its way through voluntary commitment to a psychiatric facility and crescendo in family-friendly social-media ubiquity? Artnet News national art critic Ben Davis came on the Art Angle to unwind the unlikely history and undeniable resonance of Kusama’s groundbreaking practice.

Listen below and subscribe to The Art Angle on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. (Or catch up on past episodes here on Artnet News.)


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