Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, b. Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, 1929)
Baby Carriage, 1964, repainted ca. 1966
Signed on the bottom of the carriage in black ink: Kusama/1964
Baby carriage, cloth, stuffing, silver metallic paint
38 x 23 1/4 x 40 in. (96.5 x 59 x 101.6 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry L. Tepper, 1974
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Baby Carriage belongs to a series of three-dimensional works made by Yayoi Kusama during the mid 1960s, in which she transformed everyday objects by covering them with stuffed phallic protrusions. The obsessive repetition of forms found in these three-dimensional works occurs throughout Kusama's work, from her earliest paintings to her most recent installations.
In an earlier series of paintings made after her arrival in New York in 1958, Kusama used paint to create allover patterns or textures.1 She also created collage and relief works using such materials as airmail stickers or egg cartons, again repeated obsessively. According to Alexandra Munroe, "repetition, aggregation and accumulation" were recurring themes in Kusama's art, and these themes continued through the mid '60s in the works that became known as her Sex-Obsession and Compulsion Furniture series.2 Beginning with Accumulation #1 (1962; collection of Beatrice Perry), an armchair completely covered in white fabric protrusions, the use of repeated forms was now applied to freestanding objects, densely covered in stuffed forms with clearly phallic overtones.
At this time, Kusama exhibited her sculptural work and environments in a series of solo exhibitions. Donald Judd, reviewing her 1964 Driving Image show at the Richard Castellane Gallery, referred to her "obsessive repetition" as "a complex and powerful idea," and in his well-known "Specific Objects" essay he included Kusama among the artists working in the new three-dimensional mode that he identified as neither painting nor sculpture.3
In November 1965 Baby Carriage was included, apparently in the second room, in the Floor Show exhibition at the Castellane Gallery. Whereas most of the objects in the Driving Image show were covered in white fabric, both the Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field environment in the front room and the series of objects in the second room of the Floor Show incorporated multicolored fabric in spotted or striped patterns. When Baby Carriage was first exhibited, the phalli covering the work were made from red fabric with white spots as well as black and white striped fabric.
According to Kusama's recollection in 1996, she painted the work silver shortly after the exhibition closed, because it had become soiled while on display.4 She had, however, already used metallic paint for other works, including some that may have been in the Floor Show exhibition.5 Kusama also stated in 1996 that the Oberlin work is the only Baby Carriage that she made.6
Although Baby Carriage is signed on the bottom of the carriage "Kusama/1964," the multicolored fabric is more typical of works made starting in 1965, and the repainting probably occurred in 1966. Kusama also added the three stuffed kangaroos to the interior of the carriage after it was first exhibited. Their inclusion further emphasizes the disturbing juxtaposition of the sexualized phallic forms and the childhood associations evoked by the baby carriage.
Yayoi Kusama was born 22 March 1929, in Japan. After graduating from high school, Kusama took classes at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts. In the early '50s she began showing her work in juried exhibitions, and had her first solo exhibition in 1952. In 1955 Kusama's work was included in an international watercolor exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. That same year Kusama sent letters and a selection of her watercolors to Georgia O'Keeffe, in New Mexico, and to Kenneth Callahan, a painter, in Seattle. As a result of her correspondence with Callahan, Kusama was offered a show in Seattle in 1957. Kusama came to Seattle for the opening, and from there made her way to New York, where she arrived in 1958. By 1959 Kusama had her first solo exhibition in New York, and the large net paintings that she exhibited were favorably reviewed. During the early and mid '60s Kusama was included in numerous group shows in the United States and Europe, and she also had a series of solo shows, including the 1963-64 Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show at the Gertrude Stein Gallery, New York; and the 1964 Driving Image Show and 1965 Floor Show at the Richard Castllane Gallery, New York. In addition to exhibiting her sculptural work, Kusama also began to create complete environments.
Starting in 1967 she became involved in performance-based work, and by the late '60s the happenings in which she participated were receiving much more attention in the popular press than in the art magazines that had previously reviewed her work. In the early '70s Kusama traveled between Japan and the United States several times, and she eventually remained in Japan. During the mid '70s Kusama was hospitalized for psychological problems, and in 1977 she took up long-term residence at the Seiwa Hospital in Tokyo, where she set up a studio and has continued her work as an artist.
Karia, Bhupendra, ed. Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective. Exh. cat., Center for International Contemporary Arts, New York, 1989. With essay by Alexandra Munroe.
Purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Tepper, from Richard Castellane Gallery, New York, ca. 1966-67
Given to the museum, December 1974
New York, Richard Castellane Gallery, 1965. Floor Show[solo exhibition]. November. No cat.
Akron (Ohio) Art Museum, 1994. Yayoi Kusama. 9 July - 2 October. No cat.
Benedikt, Michael. "New York Letter." Art International 10, no. 1 (January 1966), p. 99.
Johnson, Ellen H. "American Art of the Twentieth Century." Apollo 103, no. 168 (February 1976), p. 132 ill.
The piece was made using a metal and fabric baby carriage, onto which stuffed fabric protrusions were sewn. The fabric used for the protrusions was originally either red with white spots or alternating black and white stripes. The handle and metal frame of the baby carriage were also wrapped in the red and white fabric, and the wheels were painted red. After the work was first exhibited, Kusama spray-painted the entire work with silver metallic paint. She also added the three stuffed kangaroos to the interior of the carriage. The kangaroos are loose, and are also spray-painted silver. Red paint is visible under the silver paint on the wheels, and in some areas red fabric and off-white and black fabric is exposed under the paint.
The piece is in generally good condition. Some of the bags are abraded and have paint losses. In other instances thickly applied paint is flaking. Paint is also flaking off some of the metal elements on the carriage, most notably the wheel hubs. There is a tear in the fabric and associated losses to the paint along the rim of the carriage on the proper left edge. Rust, probably predating the creation of the piece, is visible under the paint layers.
1. Among these works, known as the infinity net series, is the White Net Painting (1960, AMAM inv. 66.31).
2. Alexandra Munroe, "Obsession, Fantasy and Outrage: The Art of Yayoi Kusama," in Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective, ed. Bhupendra Karia (exh. cat., Center for International Contemporary Arts, New York, 1989), p. 22.
3. Donald Judd, review of Yayoi Kusama's Driving Image show, Arts Magazine 38 (September 1964), pp. 68-69; idem, "Specific Objects," Arts Yearbook 8 (1965), pp. 74-82 (reference to Kusama, p. 78).
4. Kusama discussed Baby Carriage and her reasons for repainting the work with Laura Hoptman while she was in New York in September 1996. Kusama's recollection generally coincides with Castellane's memory that the piece was repainted in 1966, shortly before it was acquired by the Teppers, who, according to Castellane, made their last purchase of Kusama's work in 1966 or, at the latest, 1967. A note in the museum files from Castellane, written at the time that the Teppers offered to donate the work to Oberlin, indicates that Kusama added the three stuffed kangaroos to the interior of the baby carriage at the same time that she painted it silver. In fact it was not uncommon for Kusama to alter pieces made at an earlier date. (My thanks to Lynn Zelevansky, Laura Hoptman, Alexandra Munroe, and Richard Castellane for discussing Kusama's work with me. Zelevansky and Hoptman are co-curators of a Kusama retrospective that will open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1998, and then travel to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Oberlin's Baby Carriage will be included in this exhibition.)
5. Alongside a brief mention of the Floor Show exhibition, Arts Magazine published a group of photographs of Kusama's work that showed domestic objects and shoes covered in multicolored fabric phalli, shoes with phalli painted metallic gold, and several objects covered with white fabric that had been included in the Driving Image show (Arts Magazine 40 [December 1965], p. 18). In a more extended review of the exhibition, however, Michael Benedikt ("New York Letter," Art International 10, no. 1 [January 1966], p. 99) does not mention the use of metallic paint in his description of the "displays of various kitchen objects (dishpans, spatulas, ladles, dustpans, baby carriages and so forth) with the spotted or striped material stretched over them" that appeared in the second room of the Floor Show.
6. Although the Oberlin work is apparently the only baby carriage, there is a related Kusama Baby Stroller (1962), in a private collection in Cleveland. The Baby Stroller, which is also painted silver, was included with the Baby Carriage, in the 1994 exhibition of Kusama's sculpture at the Akron Art Museum.