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Yayoi Kusama : You, Me and The Balloons now at Manchester’s Aviva Studios

Yayoi Kusama : You, Me and The Balloons now at Manchester’s Aviva Studios

A major new site-specific exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s inflatable artworks is the first to open in Manchester’s new landmark cultural venue until 28 August 2023.

Manchester International Festival presents You, Me and the Balloons, a major new installation by the celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama and the first work to be presented inside Aviva Studios, Factory International’s flagship new venue, ahead of its official opening in October. The exhibition, which is Kusama’s largest and most ambitious immersive environment to date, is on view from 30 June – 28 August 2023.

Designed especially for Aviva Studio’s vast new Warehouse space, the installation brings together for the first time a collection of Kusama’s most significant inflatable artworks from the past 30 years, most of which have not been seen before in the UK. The exhibition is the first large-scale UK presentation of Kusama’s work since her acclaimed retrospective at Tate Modern in 2012. You, Me and the Balloons invites visitors to immerse themselves in Kusama’s psychedelic universe as they journey through a colourful landscape of large-scale inflatable sculptures, many standing over 10-meters-tall or suspended from the 21-metre-high ceiling. A giant pumpkin, inflatable dolls, mirrored spaces and polka-dot spheres are among the well-known motifs featured in the show.

In an interview for the exhibition catalogue, Yayoi Kusama said: “It would be interesting if people would experience the show as a wonderland. The experience of the scale is what’s important. Inflatable works expanded my creative means in terms of scale that could not have been achieved by stuffed soft sculptures, and the freedom of placing them up in the air.

“For me, the world is genuinely full of surprises. It is not that I want to inspire a childlike awe or wonder, but to inspire through my genuine perception of the world.”

Entering the exhibition, a tunnel leads visitors into a new iteration of The Hope of the Polka Dots Buried in Infinity will Eternally Cover the Universe (2019), a maze of large-scale biomorphic balloons rising floor to ceiling. Stairs within the installation lead up to a roof platform offering panoramic views of the exhibition before descending into the main Warehouse space.

Included is Kusama’s first balloon series Dots Obsession (1996/2023), reimagined for the 65-metre-long Warehouse as a constellation of large inflatable polka-dot shapes suspended in mid-air. In Dots Obsession (2013), visitors can enter one of Kusama’s renowned infinity mirror rooms located inside a large red inflatable dome.

The exhibition features Song of a Manhattan Suicide Addict (2007), a video projection showing Kusama singing about her experience of depression, and a new presentation of the artist’s inflatable Clouds (2023), which has been created especially for the installation. Positioned on the floor, these soft sculptures invite visitors, for the first time, to sit or lie on the works. In the colossal work A Bouquet of Love I Saw in the Universe (2021), which spans over 11 metres in length, visitors can immerse themselves in an inflatable forest of giant glowing pink tentacles. Kusama’s career spans eight decades and she is widely recognised as one of today’s most important living artists. Her signature motifs and materials, such as repeated polka dots, brightly coloured pumpkins and kaleidoscopic Infinity Mirror Rooms have transcended the traditional art establishment to become part of global popular culture.This exhibition is accompanied by a new catalogue from Factory International Publishing, edited by Phoebe Greenwood, Factory International Curatorial Associate, with new contributions from Yayoi Kusama, Philippa Perry, Professor Anil Seth, Akira Tatehata, Franck Gautherot and Seungduk Kim.

You, Me & the Balloons is presented as part of Manchester International Festival 2023, which returns to the city from 29 June to 16 July. The visual arts programme for MIF23 also includes The Find, a city-wide installation by Ryan Gander; a new performance work by Tino Sehgal at the National Football Museum and the Whitworth titled This entry, the first commission in a new collaborative project exploring art and football by former Manchester United footballer Juan Mata and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist; and a live photographic performance by award-winning British photographer Benji Reid. A new exhibition at the Whitworth, Economics the Blockbuster: It’s not Business as Usual, presents a selection of extraordinary art projects that operate as real-world economic systems.

Factory International is the organisation that runs and programmes Manchester International Festival and the landmark new cultural venue, Aviva Studios, a global destination for arts, music and culture in the heart of Manchester. MIF23 provides the first opportunity for audiences to experience the new venue ahead of its official opening in October. Factory International will commission and present a year-round programme of original creative work, music and special events at its new venue, online, and internationally through its network of co-commissioners and partners.

Designed by Ellen van Loon, OMA Partner and lead architect, the ultra-flexible building is based around vast, adaptable spaces that can be constantly reconfigured, enabling artists to develop works of invention and ambition, of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world. It is the largest national cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 2000 and is made possible thanks to initial HM Government investment and backing from Manchester City Council and Arts Council England.

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About Yayoi Kusama

Over the course of her distinguished career, Yayoi Kusama has developed a practice, which, though it shares affiliations with Surrealism, Minimalism, Pop art, Eccentric Abstraction, the Zero and Nul movements, resists any singular classification. Born in Matsumoto City, Japan in 1929, she studied painting in Kyoto before moving to New York in the late 1950s, and by the mid-1960s had become well known in the avant-garde world for her provocative happenings and exhibitions. Since this time, Kusama’s extraordinary artistic endeavours have spanned painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, performance, film, printmaking, installation and environmental art as well as literature, fashion (most notably in her 2012 and 2022 collaborations with Louis Vuitton) and product design.

In the late 1990s, Kusama started to create inflatable sculptures of colossal volume and scale that she calls her ‘balloons’. Their arrival marked an important turning point in Kusama’s career. Today, the artist’s boundary-pushing role in the history of post-war art and significance as a 1960s counter-culture icon is well acknowledged, but she was marginalised by the art establishment for decades. Kusama’s reappreciation began in the 1990s when an in-depth critical survey in New York in 1989 and her acclaimed Japanese Pavilion for the Venice Biennale in 1993 reintroduced her work to the world. As well known in America as Andy Warhol in the late 1960s but overlooked since she returned to live and work in Japan in 1973, Kusama was again hailed as a pioneer.

Kusama lives and works in Tokyo, where the Yayoi Kusama Museum opened in October 2017. Over the past decade there have been museum exhibitions of Kusama’s work touring the world in North America, Japan, Korea, Singapore, China, Australia, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Spain, England, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, Canada, Taiwan, Indonesia, Germany, Israel and Hong Kong. In 2014 she was declared the world’s most popular artist by The Art Newspaper based on global museum visitor numbers. In 2016 Kusama received the Order of Culture, one of the highest honours bestowed by the Imperial Family in Japan. Kusama is the first woman to be honoured with Japan’s prestigious medal for drawings and sculptures.   

About Factory International

Factory International commissions, produces and presents a year-round programme of original creative work and special events at Aviva Studios, its landmark new home in Manchester, online, and internationally through its network of co-commissioners and partners. It also stages the city-wide Manchester International Festival every other year. Factory International builds on the legacy of Manchester International Festival, one of the world’s leading arts festivals, and the first to be entirely focused on the commissioning and producing of ambitious new work.  Staged every two years in Manchester since 2007, MIF has commissioned, produced and presented world premieres by artists including Marina Abramović, Damon Albarn, Laurie Anderson, Björk, Boris Charmatz, Jeremy Deller, Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah, Elbow, Tracey Emin, Akram Khan, David Lynch, Ibrahim Mahama, Wayne McGregor, Steve McQueen, Marta Minujín, Cillian Murphy, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Yoko Ono, Thomas Ostermeier, Maxine Peake, Punchdrunk, Skepta, Christine Sun Kim, The xx, and Robert Wilson.

These and other world-renowned artists from different art forms and backgrounds create dynamic, innovative and forward-thinking new work reflecting the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture, staged across Greater Manchester – from theatres, galleries and concert halls to railway depots, churches and car parks. Working closely with cultural organisations globally, whose financial and creative input helps to make many of these projects possible, much of the work made at MIF also goes on to travel the world, reaching an audience of 1.7 million people in more than 30 countries to date.