The Polka Dot Princess’s Fear of the Phallus

The retrospective exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s artwork currently on display at Washington, D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum showcases a 6-decade career hallmarked by obsessive, mind-bending repetitions of patterns and immersive viewer experiences.


The exhibition has turned into a social media sensation. An Instagram selfie in a Kusama infinity room such as “Phalli’s Field” is a status symbol, proof of a hard-to-get-ticket and entrance into the headline-grabbing show.

Kusama’s work is complex and riddled with signs of a lifelong battle with mental illness. She suffers from depersonalization disorder and for more than forty years she’s lived voluntarily in a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo across the street from her studio. Her art, she claims, is a necessary part of her treatment.

While much of the current media coverage of Kusama focuses on her ubiquitous polka dots and the five mesmerizing infinity rooms, among her re-emerging themes are her complex relationship with sex and a fear of penises, anxieties she grapples with through “psychosomatic art.”

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