There is a tendency today for people to get excited about things quickly, yet the memory of them fades even quicker. Living in era of the internet makes it easy to create a viral spiral around basically anything that’s happening. Before we realize that certain events have occurred, they're already gone, and the focus shifts. The same happened to the collaboration between Yayoi Kusama and Louis Vuitton. However, this time it is much more complex than it seems.
First, who is this “Yayoi Kusama”? Shockingly, I’ve heard that question quite a lot recently, even though the 94-year-old Japanese artist is claimed to be one of the world’s most successful living artists. In the second half of the twentieth century, Kusama's work transcended two major art movements: Pop art and Minimalism. She’s known for her polka-dot, which she builds up on her appearance and art. Kusama has been active in the art market since the 1960s and gained popularity quite quickly. In November 2014 she became the most expensive living woman artist at auctions. It was exactly two years after her first collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Under Marc Jacobs’ direction, the collection was a hit. The names Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama are legendary in fashion and art, so what could possibly go wrong? With all the iconic Vuitton bags coloured in Kusama’s polka dot, what more could we ask for? The fashion beyond fashion, art crossing borders. A decade after that, they collaborated one more time, this time even on a bigger scale.
In the leading outposts in cities such as London, New York, Paris, and many more, the luxury brand completely revamped their appearances by covering London’s Harrods in polka dots and setting up the enormous sculptures showcasing the artist. It wasn't the end of the promoting machine. The news was spread through social media through multiple themed Instagram filters and mobile games. Moreover, top models such as Bella Hadid, Gisele Bündchen, Karlie Kloss etc., have been recruited to take part in a campaign, that involved transforming dots into impalpable flakes, balls, or bubbles. Among the many highlights of the collaboration, let’s not forget about a robot version of Yayoi Kusama in NYC, a balloon that is easy to mistake with real Kusama (maybe the size’s not quite adequate) in Paris, and a pop-up store in her native Japan. The whole thing seems too good to be true, however, it wasn’t. The brand was criticized for using Kusama purely for the purpose of selling luxury goods rather than focusing on showcasing the artist's work. Even the dots appearing on this year’s collection seem printed out, not to mention a continuation of the old motifs. In other words, Louis Vuitton seems content with capitalizing on its past success, and it’s taking advantage of the Kusama craze to succeed financially. Moreover, the work in the collection lacks the depth and complexity Kusama's originals possessed. As a result, the products that were created are more likely to appeal to the masses, aside from their high prices. I remember standing in rainy London, just outside Harrods, watching people choosing their designer bags, knowing that even crossing the doors of the shop would be embarrassing for me, as I couldn’t afford them. That’s the other problem, which has only been growing in the modern world. We all know that the fashion bubble is not for everyone, and it includes only some exclusives, which constant bombastic events such as the Met Gala reminds us of all the time. Nevertheless, art supposedly should be for everyone. At least a plethora of people believe that the times have changed. Back in the day, the ones who’d been able to have access to any kind of so-called high culture, which were art galleries, and artworks auctions, needed to have money and status. Kusama is a phenomenon, and anyone who thinks she would collaborate with any brand is slightly naive. Her way through the art market dominated by white men, where she was successful over all of them, was for sure not easy. While Louis Vuitton has been in a long-time romance with the art world, and with the help of the Japanese artist, they seem ideal to stage lively installations. Above all, very "Instagrammable", which now is the main way to boost sales and seems mostly to matter to Vuitton. However, this time they haven’t created anything special in the luxury brand history, and maybe without this exclusive fuss, if Kusama decided to be more approachable to a higher range of people, maybe those fun promotion ideas would end up with a bigger success. It seems that she’s become the brand herself, and the truth is that this special mix, no matter how hard they’d try, only reaches “the real” ones, who actually knew about the collaboration way before. Most of the people, from what I observed in London, thought that Kusama’s sculptures, robots, etc. were some kind of the city’s odds, not a new collection from a one-of-a-kind artist. The problem is that apart from fashion or art freaks, no one really cares, and no one is even able to afford those things. We all know that Vuitton is a prestigious brand, and tickets for Kusama’s exhibitions or her gadgets from gift shops are almost as expensive. If there really is a shift to make art more accessible, why don’t we have access to these things?
The problem is that ventures such as this one focusses their interest on the people from a higher class with an expendable income. Sadly, we still live in a world, where often art doesn’t create a universal language for all of us. We can accept it, or maybe we can try to change it.
Words and Images by Misia Kozanecka she/her