Louis Vuitton, Soho, 2012
It’s funny what you can learn from just looking at store windows. I took this picture in New York recently. It’s the luxury retailer Louis Vuitton’s Soho store. I was intrigued by the undulated polka dotted “leaves,” or whatever they are. (Don’t they look like something that would grow on the bottom of the sea?)
One of the nice things about New York City stores is that many of them haven’t completely lost the art of visual merchandising. Unlike suburban stores, where everyone either drives by or, in the case of malls, has bare brick exterior faces, there are lots of people walking in New York. Shop windows are important real estate for merchandising.
Last week one of my Flickr contacts posted a picture of a store window so familiar to the one shown above that I wrote to ask if it was the same one. He answered that it was another Louis Vuitton store in New York.
Then, just a few days ago, I happened to be leafing through some recent issues of The New Yorker magazine that I hadn’t gotten to yet and saw an ad for an exhibit of the work of the Japanese artist Yoyoi Kusama. I’d never heard of Yoyoi Kusama. But I recognized the polka dot motif immediately.
It turns out the Whitney Museum is doing a retrospective show of Kusama’s work and that Louis Vuitton, under the direction of creative director and designer Marc Jacobs, is sponsoring the exhibit. Hence the Kusama, or at least Kusama-inspired, Vuitton window displays.
Jacobs is a fan of Kusama’s work and wanted to give her an opportunity to return to New York in style. Kusama, who was born in Japan, was big on the New York scene during the 1960s. She hung out with Warhol and Lichtenstein. She was known for her provocative art “happenings” and her obsessive use of polka dots. She described polka dots as “my medicine.”
Unfortunately, as most of us know, dots can be fun, but have little actual medicinal value. Whatever restorative value they’d had on Kusama waned, as well. She suffered a mental breakdown during the 1970s and retreated to Japan, where she is said to have lived in a mental institution ever since. According to an account in the Daily Beast:
“For her triumphant return to New York, Kusama, a diminutive woman, wore a Technicolor red wig, a black dress splattered with red dots, polka-dot sunglasses, and myriad other dotted accessories from Vuitton. She has a reputation for being unreliable and inscrutable, but she can also be endearingly earnest. She is alternately admired for using art as a means to understanding her mental illness and accused of using mental illness to make her art that much more tantalizing.”
All this, just from having looked at a store window.