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Kusama – Infinity

A new documentary—17 years in the making—retraces the artist’s early life and creative evolution
John Ewing, Curator of Film
August 15, 2018

Director and Artist, Heather Lenz with Yayoi Kusama

For someone who spent 17 years making an independent documentary about Yayoi Kusama, Heather Lenz could not have had better timing. The Japanese artist was largely forgotten and mostly unknown when Lenz, then a college student, learned about Kusama from a professor and soon decided to make a movie that would help reclaim her rightful place in the history of contemporary art. But by the time Lenz finished her film, Kusama was one of the top-selling female artists in the world and her Infinity Mirrors exhibition was breaking records at museums around the globe.

A native of Greater Akron and a graduate of Kent State University, Lenz worked part-time at the Akron Art Museum before moving to Los Angeles and earning an MFA in cinematic arts from the University of Southern California. Kusama – Infinity, her first feature, debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and screened subsequently in the Cleveland International Film Festival. We show the film (in a slightly revised cut) 26 times in September, and Lenz appears in person at two screenings.

A must-see complement to our current exhibition, Kusama – Infinity explores the artist’s childhood in Japan during World War II and her lifelong obsession with nets, phalluses, and polka dots. Archival photographs, letters, and film clips document her move to America in the late 1950s and her 15 years in New York City, where she was a key member of the pop art movement and a guerrilla organizer of public “happenings” that protested the Vietnam War and advocated for women’s and gay rights. Plagued by mental health issues through much of her life, Kusama lives by choice in a psychiatric hospital in Japan. Lenz’s lens captures the artist, now 89, creating new work.

The kaleidoscopic Kusama – Infinity celebrates two women artists who have persevered for years and recently seized the public’s imagination. 

Cleveland Art, September/October 2018