Matsumoto City Museum of Art
Seeing spots with the world-renowned Yayoi Kusama.
Matsumoto’s breathtaking landscapes have inspired artists all across Japan. As such, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art, built in 2002, has devoted its entire collection to artists who have come from or whose work has been influenced by the city of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture. Undoubtedly, the most recognizable artist among them is the world-renowned avant-garde living legend Yayoi Kusama.
Yayoi Kusama’s signature style, shaped by her lifelong struggle with mental illness, captivates and resonates with people worldwide.
Yayoi Kusama’s signature style, shaped by her lifelong struggle with mental illness, captivates and resonates with people worldwide. Although Matsumoto’s permanent installment of her work is small, Yayoi Kusama’s trademark polka dots aren’t limited to — or more accurately — cannot be confined within the museum walls.
A relatively small art museum, the Matsumoto City Museum of Art is like entering a new reality and questioning your own. Outside the museum are larger-than-life flower sculptures. These and the building’s exterior are completely engulfed by infectious red polka dots. However, you’ll see the characteristic spots — a mark of Kusama’s most recognizable artwork — elsewhere in Matsumoto, as they also adorn buses, billboards and flags lining city streets.
Insight into Kusama
An emotional rollercoaster, one of the museum’s permanent collections called Yayoi Kusama: The Place for My Soul will leave you in awe. The museum introduces Kusama’s work with small-scale canvases, gradually increasing the pieces’ size and complexity.
Each room of the exhibit is like walking through a different stage of Kusama’s life and illness that reaches a final disorienting crescendo and ultimately peace and acceptance. Isolation and unification, resentment and love, and fear and confidence are all dichotomies expressed with a simple-yet-familiar motif.
Although the museum’s main attraction, Kusama’s work is definitely not the only thing worth seeing. Calligraphy, sculptures, canvas paintings, both traditional and modern the Matsumoto City Museum of Art holds one treasure after another. While the Matsumoto Art Museum at times possesses up to 200 or 300 pieces of a given artists’ work a small selection based on a chosen theme will regularly circulate permanent exhibits.
The Kamijo Shinzan Memorial Exhibition Room contains the flexible art style of Japanese calligraphy teacher Kamijou Shinzan. You don’t need to know Japanese to appreciate these works. Some pieces are strong and rigid, formed with confident, precise, and sharp strokes while others are softer and inviting with broad, loose strokes covering a vast canvas. Shinzan’s choice of characters and adaptive art style clearly illustrates the true connotation and power of written words.
Another worthwhile memorial exhibit is that of Kazuo Tamura. At a young age, Tamura, like most, was awestruck by the mountains surrounding Matsumoto. Since then, mountains and plateaus became the central theme in his paintings. While the vast majority of his paintings depict winter sceneries, the paintings are not cold. Many canvases are dominated by grey, brown, and white in order to set the scene but the images captured are not barren, dark or devoid of life. Similar to standing in a field after a snowstorm, the world is bright and while your own breath seems deafening in the silence around you the pure blanket of snow around you is nurturing. This is the beauty captured by Kazuo Tamura.
Before leaving, take one final look at the museum: Those bright polka dots might have developed a deeper meaning.