- “She was very assertive,” says fellow artist and friend Carolee Schneemann, whose work deployed her own naked body, like Kusama’s later would. As female artists, she says, “we were all fighting to not be marginalized.” And Kusama was a networking warrior. “We’d go to an opening at a museum or a gallery, and she would say: ‘Carolee, you tell me who is most important here.’ ” One of her good friends was Donald Judd, who wrote criticism praising her and “was a major force in making me into a star,” Kusama wrote. He even helped her with those phallic sculptures. The avant-garde was still small then: At one point, she lived in a building with Claes Oldenburg, John Chamberlain, and Larry Rivers. She got to know Andy Warhol, whose wallpaper with repeated images echoed her work, and regarded him—perhaps hubristically—as a leader of a “rival gang.”
- One of her great “romances” was with sculptor Joseph Cornell, who lived with his overbearing mother and invalid brother and was too psychologically hamstrung to actually consummate. Nonetheless, they’d often draw each other in the nude; she described his penis as “a big, desiccated calzone.”
- Does it bother you that your work is sometimes seen through the lens of mental illness?
I’m not an outsider artist. Although I’m living in a hospital, I buy my own land and have built my own building. And I am now getting ready to make a museum.
The Art of the Flame Out (New York)