Why Yayoi Kusama wrote to Richard Nixon
'I will lovingly, soothingly, adorn your hard masculine body,' she wrote as she invited him to an orgy
For centuries, artists have been in dialogue with kings, queens and other heads of state. The Japanese painter, sculptor, filmmaker, installation and performance artist Yayoi Kusama, is no different. Yet her 1968 open letter to the then president-elect of the United States, Richard Nixon, is a remarkable work in itself.
The Nixon letter was not the first Kusama had written to a world leader. In 1957, while struggling to establish herself as an artist in her native Japan, Kusama wrote to the French president René Coty, asking him for help. According to Kusama, Coty responded, directing her towards cultural exchange programmes.
Eleven years later, on 11 November 1968, once established as a provocative contemporary artist in the USA, Kusama wrote a very different letter to the president elect, who had won the election the preceding Tuesday, 5 November. Nixon had campaigned to end the Vietnam war “with honor”, yet he had positioned himself against countercultural anti-war activists such as Kusama.
Unlike her letter to Coty, it seems unlikely that Kusama expected a genuine response to her Nixon missive; she staged a ‘Nixon orgy’ around the same time in her Manhattan studio, and the tenor of the message, wherein she seemed to offer erotic service in return for a ceasefire in the Pacific, should perhaps be seen more as a proactive, anti-Vietnam stunt than a serious attempt to communicate with the highest office in the land. Here’s the text in full, as reproduced in our new Yayoi Kusama monograph:
“Our earth is like one little polka dot, among millions of other celestial bodies, one orb full of hatred and strife amid the peaceful, silent spheres. Let’s you and I change all that and make this world a new Garden of Eden.
“Let’s forget ourselves, dearest Richard, and become one with the Absolute, all together in the alltogether. As we soar through the heavens, we’ll paint each other with polka dots, lose our egos in timeless eternity, and finally discover the naked truth: You can’t eradicate violence by using more violence. This truth is written in spheres with which I will lovingly, soothingly, adorn your hard masculine body. Gently! Gently! Dear Richard. Calm your manly fighting spirit!”
For more of Kusama’s work, from her procative mid-century pieces through to her more contemplative, later works, order a copy of our newly updated Yayoi Kusama monograph here.