The Obliteration Room  Yayoi Kusama

The Obliteration Room Yayoi Kusama

Dunedin Public Art Gallery | 7th May 7th August

Fresh and sparkling at the DPAG this week is Yayoi Kusama’s The Obliteration Room, or polka dot madness, as I prefer to think of it. This exhibition takes the form of a domestic interior - a house complete with living room, study, kitchen, and Kmart-worthy chic décor. The only difference between this gallery space and your typical studio apartment is that on opening day everything was completely white, as though flooded with fifty tins of whitewash. Here is where the polka dots come in. 

Approaching the gallery space on the second day of the exhibition, I was asked by a friendly gallery host if I would care for a sheet of bright and colourful polka dot stickers. Forever a five-year-old, how could I refuse? The idea of The Obliteration Room is to cover the space and its contents in stickers, transforming the once-white room into an ‘obliterated’ space of colour and dottiness. Already the room was covered with masses of polka dots like oversized confetti. 

A novelty for viewers, but the same old story for Yayoi Kusama, whose work throughout her career has revolved around these captivating, brightly coloured dots. A Japanese artist, Kusama’s work rose to prominence in the ’50s and ’60s. She is a treasured artist both in Japan and globally, receiving the title of Person of Cultural Merits in 2009 and exhibiting in major cities worldwide. To have her work featured in Dunedin is incredible, to say the least. 

While the vast majority of art exhibitions are there to be looked at and contemplated, Kusama’s work demands participation, interactivity, and collaboration. This is an artwork which you must walk through and explore, opening the refrigerator door, laughing at the tiny alligator heads hidden inside the teacups. The brightly coloured stickers can be placed anywhere—on the walls in random arrangements or smiley faces; or on the objects themselves, turning white bananas into curves of colour, or replacing the blank TV screen with circles of red, blue, and yellow. 

Children thrive in exhibitions like this. While visiting, one little dude screamed “This is the best exhibition EVER!” while his sister sped around, locating all the obscure nooks and crannies where polka dot stickers could be placed —“They even go in the FRIDGE, Mum!” And this enthusiasm is infectious. You can’t help but smile in this exhibition – it would be like watching the Wiggles while frowning, or refusing to join in on the biggest colouring book Dunedin has to offer.

This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2016.
Posted 1:10pm Sunday 22nd May 2016 by Monique Hodgkinson.