Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons, takes centre stage at Manchester International Festival 2023

The inaugural exhibition at Factory International will showcase over 30 years of the renowned Japanese artist Kusama’s inflatable sculptures, in a huge immersive installation.

By Sophia Crilly | 27 June 2023

Share this story

You, Me and the Balloons, is a major exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s inflatable sculptures that will sit at the centre of Manchester International Festival (MIF23), as the inaugural exhibition launching Factory International’s new space from 30 June to 28 August.

Collating over three decades worth of the renowned Japanese artist’s spectacular inflatable artworks for the first time, it will be Kusama’s largest ever installation to date, featuring towering works over 10 metres tall and immersing visitors in her psychedelic landscape of polka-dot constellations.

Conceived and created especially for Manchester’s newest cultural venue, and taking full advantage of Factory International’s vast warehouse space, the blockbuster exhibition is a coup for the North West, with it surpassing the artist’s recent large-scale show Infinity Mirror Rooms at Tate Modern, London.

At 94 years old, Yayoi Kusama is somewhat of a global phenomenon, with a career that spans eight decades. Her work has transcended two of the most important art movements of the second half of the twentieth century: Pop Art and Minimalism, securing her status in the canons of art history.

Born in 1929 in Matsumoto City, Nagano, from a young age Kusama experienced visual and auditory hallucinations and began creating net and polka-dot pattern pictures. After settling in the United States in 1957 she began making net paintings and soft sculptures, as well as organising happenings and developing installations that made use of mirrors and lights, establishing herself as an avant-garde artist.

Kusama came to international attention in 1960s New York, after further developing a wide-ranging creative practice that has encompassed indoor and outdoor sculptural installations, interventions within existing architectural structures, paintings, performance, film, fashion design, and literary works.

Whilst working across these multiple mediums Kusama discovered an artistic philosophy of self-obliteration via the obsessive repetition and multiplication of single motifs, which allude at once to microscopic and macroscopic universes, and this philosophy has continued to inform her work throughout her career. The obsession with dots has been a predominant and recurrent theme throughout her practice since childhood, as an attempt to silence intrusive thoughts and immerse the viewer in her world of repetition and obsession. 

Kusama’s work is multi-layered in themes and meaning. The often-large scale of her installations and choice of materials celebrates playfulness and experimentation and she started using inflatable materials in her work in 1996. You, Me and the Balloons is both the culmination and celebration of three decades spent on these pioneering artworks, all brought together for the first time here in Manchester.

The exhibition at Factory International invites visitors into an exhilarating experience of the hallucinatory effects of journeying through Kusama’s psychedelic installations of colour saturated, surreal, and repetitive motifs of giant dolls, pumpkins, tentacled landscapes and huge polka-dot spheres. Creating an almost transcendental experience and taking us beyond ourselves to make us feel part of something greater.

Unique in her ability to conjure wonder while also asking bigger questions about human existence, Kusama is renowned and adored internationally for her surreal worlds and the creation of her own cosmos, with millions queuing for hours globally to spend time in her unique installations.

Since the 1970s Kusama has lived in Tokyo, where she has continued to work prolifically and to international acclaim – exhibiting at museums around the world from the United States, to across Asia and Europe – she represented Japan at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993, and in 2016 was the first woman to receive the Order of Culture, a prestigious medal for drawings and sculptures, and one of the highest honours bestowed by the Imperial Family. The Yayoi Kusama Museum honouring her career opened in Tokyo in October 2017.

Despite such a prolific output, experiencing Kusama’s work first-hand and at such scale is a unique opportunity in the North, and is sure to be one of the sell-out shows of this year’s festival.


VENUE: Factory International, The Warehouse, Aviva Studios, Water Street, Manchester. M3 4JQ

DATE: Open from Friday 30 June – Monday 28 August 2023

PRICE: Standard Tickets £15, Affordable Tickets £7.50 & £10

If you’d prefer a quieter visit, tickets for relaxed sessions are available so you can enjoy the show with fewer visitors around, as well as greater sensory consideration regarding noise levels and volume of people in the space.

Art Events Gallery