Yayoi Kusama began to paint using polka dots and nets as motifs at around age ten, and created fantastic paintings in watercolors, pastels and oils.
She travelled to the United States in 1957 and showed large paintings, soft sculptures, and environmental sculptures using mirrors and electric lights. In the latter 1960s, she staged many happenings such as body painting festivals, fashion shows and anti-war demonstrations. Kusama also launched media-related activities such as film production and newspaper publication. In 1968, the film "Kusama's Self-Obliteration" which she produced and starred in won a prize at the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium, the Second Maryland Film Festival and the second prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Meanwhile, she held exhibitions and staged happenings in various countries in Europe.
Kusama finally returned to Japan in 1973. While continuing to produce and show art works, she issued a number of novels and anthologies. In 1983, the novel "The Hustlers Grotto of Christopher Street" won the Tenth Literary Award for New Writers from the monthly magazine Yasei Jidai.
In 1986, she held solo exhibitions at the Musée Municipal, Dole; the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Calais, France in 1989; the Center for International Contemporary Arts, New York and the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England. In 1993, she officially participated in the 45th Venice Biennale.
Kusama began to create open-air sculptures in 1994 for the Fukuoka Kenko Center; the Fukuoka Municipal Museum of Art; the Bunka-mura on Benesse Island of Naoshima; Kirishima Open-Air Museum and Matsumoto City Museum of Art; the Matsudai Station, Niigata; TGV's Lille-Europe Station; Beverly Gardens Park, Beverly Hills; Pyeonghwa Park, Anyang; and a mural for the subway station in Lisbon.
She started to show works mainly at galleries in New York in 1996. A solo show held in New York in the same year won the Best Gallery Show in 1995/96 and the Best Gallery Show in 1996/97 from the International Association of Art Critics in 1996.
From 1998 to 1999, a major retrospective of Kusama's works opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and traveled to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Walker Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.
In 2000, Kusama won The Education Minister's Art Encouragement Prize and Foreign-Minister's Commendations. In the same year, her solo exhibition that opened at Le Consortium in France traveled to Maison de la culture du Japon, Paris; Kunsthallen Brandts Klædefabrik, Denmark; Les Abattoirs, Toulouse; Kunsthalle Wien; and Art Sonje Center, Seoul.
She received the Asahi Prize in 2001, the Medal with Dark Navy Blue Ribbon in 2002, the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Officier), and the Nagano Governor Prize (for the contribution in encouragement of art and culture) in 2003.
In 2004, Kusama's solo exhibition "KUSAMATRIX" started at Mori Museum in Tokyo. This exhibition drew a record number of visitors totalling 520,000 people. In the same year, another solo exhibition started at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and in 2005 it traveled to The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art; Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto; and the Matsumoto City Museum of Art.
She received the 2006 National Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Losette and The Praemium Imperiale -Painting- in 2006.
In 2008, the documentary film "Yayoi Kusama, I adore myself" was released in Japan and screened at international film festivals and museums. Her exhibition tour opened at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, then traveled to Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney and the City Gallery Wellington in 2009. Later that year, Kusama's solo exhibitions were held at the Gagosian Gallery (NY and LA), Victora Miro Gallery (London) and Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea (Milan). She was also conferred the title Honorary Citizen of Matsumoto City, and as Person of Cultural Merits in Japan.
In 2010, Kusama's solo exhibition and permanent outdoor sculpture was unveiled at the Towada Art Center in Japan. She participated in the Sydney Biennale and Aichi Triennale, and held solo exhibitions at Victoria Miro Gallery in London and fiac in Paris.
The following year in 2011, Kusama held solo exhibitions at Gagosian Gallery (Rome) and Victoria Miro Gallery (London), while her largest Europe and North America retrospective tour started at Museo Naçional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid) traveling to Centre Pompidou (Paris), the Tate Modern (London) and the Whitney Museum (New York). She also held a solo exhibition at the Watari Art Museum (Tokyo). In September, she participated in the 2011 Chengdu Biennale and the Queensland Art Gallery (Brisbane) in November.
In 2012, "Eternity of Eternal Eternity", a traveling solo exhibition of her recent works opened at the National Museum of Art, Osaka, and went on to The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama; Matsumoto City Museum of Art, Nagano; and Niigata City Art Museum. She was awarded the Shinjuku Honorary Citizen Award, and The American Academy Of Arts and Letters Foreign Honorary Membership. The same year, she collaborated with Louis Vuitton's creative director Marc Jacobs on the collection "LOUIS VUITTON × YAYOI KUSAMA".
2013 marked the beginning of her Latin America retrospective tour "Yayoi Kusama, Obsesión infinita [Infinite Obsession]" started at Malba - Fundación Costantini(Buenos Aires) which later on traveled to Centro Cultural Banco do Brazil (Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia) and Instituto Tomie Ohtake(São Paulo), Museo Tamayo (Mexico City) through 2014. In addition, "KUSAMA YAYOI, A Dream I Dreamed", an Asia touring exhibition of over 100 recent works opened at the Daegu Art Museum in Korea, followed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai; Seoul Arts Center; Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Taiwan; and the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung through 2015. She also held a solo exhibition "I Who Have Arrived In Heaven" at David Zwirner Gallery, New York, in 2013, as well as "KUSAMA YAYOI: A DREAM IN JEJU" at Bonte Museum (Jeju island, Korea).
Most recently in 2015, the Scandinavian tour which is a comprehensive overview of Kusama's practice, including works that span the full length of her career opened at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark (through January 24, 2016). In 2016, the show will travel to the Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, Høvikodden, Norway, followed by the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and the Helsinki Art Museum.