Jakarta Goes Crazy For Yayoi Kusama’s World Of Polka Dots

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A lot of people say that art lovers are slightly dotty. And entering Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow an exhibition by wildly popular Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, which opened at at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum Macan) in Jakarta last month, you’ll see that these people may indeed be right. Quite literally.

Turn to almost any corner of this spacious gallery (2,500sq m gives you enough room to stretch), and it’s all dots, dots and more dots as far as the eye can see. Whether covering huge installations that lunge out of the museum’s ceiling, or spread out on the canvas of a colourful painting on a wall, it’s not difficult to spot the brightly coloured spots of the quirky exhibits that make up this show.

Art enthusiasts will probably not be surprised at this combination: bright polka dots are one of the trademarks of Yayoi, one of Japan’s most prominent contemporary artists. Her latest exhibition dazzled fans last year at the National Gallery of Singapore and Queensland Art Gallery in Australia, who gathered by the thousands to take selfies with her vivid, Instagram-friendly art.

And now, Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow makes a final stop at Museum Macan, which is housed in the AKR Tower, a swank-looking building that is part office block and part hotel in Jakarta. This is not only Indonesia’s first major Yayoi exhibition, but also the first time the works of an international artist are presented on such a scale to the Indonesian public.

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Stick ’em up! Visitors enjoying themselves in The Obliteration Room, which features Indonesian-inspired sticker designs for the public to paste on the walls. Photo: Museum Macan

The museum is owned by Haryanto Adikoesoemo, the president of chemicals and logistics company AKR Corporindo. He has collected art for over 25 years.  “Macan” also means tiger in Bahasa Indonesia.

For those unacquainted, Yayoi, 89, is an award-winning contemporary artist, widely known for her signature red wig, and her unique infinity mirror room installations. In her youth, the artist suffered much psychological trauma, and often experienced hallucinations of strings of dots: a feature which she incorporated into her works.

“Yayoi is one of those icons of contemporary art and pop culture. You don’t need to have lived or travelled overseas to already know who she is. I think everyone knows her for her dots, and her nets, and she’s done great collaborations with brands like Louis Vuitton. She’s something of a household name here in Indonesia. Her work is very universal,” says Fenessa Adikoesoemo, Museum Macan Foundation chairwoman, during a media trip to the gallery last month.

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Yayoi’s installation Narcissus Garden is a favourite selfie destination.  Photo: The Jakarta Post/ANN

The Jakarta version of Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow features more than 130 of Kusama’s works, spanning 70 years of the artist’s practice. This exhibit includes pieces that have not been seen in previous versions of the show, including the installation Infinity Mirrored Room- Brilliance Of The Souls (2014), which is part of Museum Macan’s collection.

The Obliteration Room, one of the exhibition’s most popular highlights, is a living room completely covered in white paint. It has been given a local makeover with visitors invited to place coloured polka dot stickers on the walls. The Jakarta version of this room contains iconic Indonesian motifs such as a series of wayang kulit puppets and a mortar and pestle.

Indeed, step into Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow, and be treated to a wide scope of Yayoi’s work, from her older paintings such as Flower (1952) and The Night (1953) all the way to her more recent Love Forever (2007) series. From the surreal images of her video installation (Song Of A Manhattan Suicide Addict, 2010), to the sea of stainless steel balls of Narcissus Garden (1966/2002) there’s always something to dazzle even the most jaded of art lovers. Do look out for Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow (2017), the painting that gave the show its name.

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A child looks through the peephole of Yayoi’s I Want To Love On The Festival Night (2017) installation.

And yes, photography is allowed: Yayoi’s works, after all, look amazing on Instagram.

“People always ask us, don’t people just come to take a selfie inside the museum? But we find that when people do that, they have to read the captions, they have to read about the artworks. They learn something from it. And that’s what we want out of their experience, for them to learn and understand the works as they go through the museum,” says Fenessa with a smile.

The show sold out on its opening weekend of May 12-13. That’s no small feat, considering Museum Macan can support 3,000 visitors at a time. Reports of long queues of people trying to get into the Yayoi show this month only reinforces the museum’s bold vision to attract the best of the international art world to Jakarta.

Indeed, having the work of an international artist such as Yayoi on such a big scale is quite an achievement, especially since the museum only opened last November.

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In Yayoi’s colourful world, the humble pumpkin is elevated to great heights as seen in this exhibit called The Spirits Of The Pumpkins Descended Into The Heavens. Photo: Museum Macan

Its inaugural show Art Turns, World Turns saw over 130,000 visitors. The show featured classic works from Indonesian icons such as Raden Saleh (1811-1880) and S. Sudjojono (1913-1986) to contemporary names like Affandi, FX Harsono and Heri Dono. Works from international names like Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat added stardust glitter to Museum Macan’s opening.

“We hope that the exhibitions we make help to secure the vision of the museum, about Indonesia in the context of South-East Asia and the world. We also want to ensure that we are relevant. That the artists we are working with are working at top capacity, and the conversations we are having with them makes sense for the art scene in Indonesia and the world,” says Aaron Seeto, Museum Macan director.

The museum currently has no permanent exhibitions, so this extensive art collection is not currently on display.

“Museum Macan will feature large scale exhibition programming every 18 to 24 months,” says Seeto.

And while he was tight-lipped on the exact details, Seeto hints that the museum’s next project would involve work from an Indonesian artist, a Japanese artist and a Taiwanese artist.

“It’s a way for audiences to see connections that are happening in this part of the world. Yes, we’re an international museum, but we’re an international museum located in South-East Asia,” says Seeto.

Any chance for collaborations with Malaysian artists at Museum Macan in the future?

“Watch this space,” he adds.


Yayoi Kusama: Life Is The Heart Of A Rainbow is showing at Museum Macan in Jakarta, Indonesia till Sept 9. For more information, visit: www.museummacan.org.



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