Infinity with Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama pumpkin, Naoshima Island, Japan

While on a contemporary art pilgrimage in 2013 to Naoshima Island in Japan’s Seto Island Sea I encountered one of Yayoi Kusama’s iconic pumpkin sculptures (see above). Years later I read Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama and learned about Kusma’s intentional use of dots to explore obliteration and infinity, and the significance of pumpkins in her art as a representative of an alternative self-portrait. So when the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibit came to the Seattle Art Museum in July 2017 I was eager to see the show, especially since it includes installation art, which is an interest of mine.

Although this exhibition was bound to be a blockbuster, and tickets were hard to get, I was still surprised by the crowds of excited people at the exhibit. People weren’t just lined up outside the exhibit hall to get into the show; huge lines of talkative and amazed people were queued up inside the show. Along with many sculptures, there were four immersive installations behind closed doors, one peephole chamber installation, and one interactive room.

visitors inside the Infinity Mirrors exhibit waiting to be let into the installations

Visitors inside the Infinity Mirrors exhibit waiting to be let into the installations

Museum guards shepherded only two or three people at a time into the installation rooms and closed the doors—then reopened the doors 20-30 seconds later. Visitors got half a minute or less to experience the installations in almost total privacy. The ability to block out the rest of the world and really experience the work, along with the very brief exposure, heightened the feeling of scarcity and desire to return. Once your time was up you were free to get back in line, which many people did. I saw each installation at least twice.

It was great to see people so excited to see the work of a contemporary artist. The feeling at the Yayoi Kusama show reminded me a bit of the energy of the crowds at Savage Beauty, the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011. (McQueen had died in 2010.) Excited museum-goers at that show snaked through the numerous rooms of clothing and mannequins staged in different themes; it was very much like a series of installations.

When inside a Yayoi Kusama installation the viewer becomes part of the art as the forms, and viewer, are reflected in the mirrors. Kusama has worked with repetitive forms and repetitive dots for decades and “she first used mirrors as a multi-reflective device in Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field in 1965, transforming the intense repetition that marked some of her earlier works into an immersive experience” (according to the Gallery Guide brochure).

Inside Infinity Mirror Room— Phalli’ s Field

Inside Infinity Mirror Room— Phalli’ s Field

I started my experience with Infinity Mirror Room— Phalli’ s Field. I didn’t know what to expect when I entered, but once I was inside I felt like I had been dropped into a candy land. I don’t take many selfies, yet this first experience with an infinity mirror room compelled me to turn the iPhone on myself to capture the infinite moment.

No photography was allowed in the Infinity Mirrored Room—All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins and the ban was enforced by a guard that entered the installation with visitors. This was the only room where visitors were accompanied by a guard. I enjoyed experiencing the enteral field of pumpkins without the temptation to photograph it. Perhaps the ban is in place because Kusama views pumpkins as sacred. Later I read that this is the installation that was damaged when it was exhibited at the Hirshhorn Museum.

Another exhibit I did not photograph was Infinity Mirrored Room—Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. It was a dark room filled with hanging warm-light bulbs, which were reminiscent of lanterns. When you’re only given 20-30 seconds with a work of art, you begin to feel like taking a photo is a waste of time. The Pumpkin and Aftermath installations were the two most tranquil installations because they had the lowest lighting and most subdued colors.

Infinity Mirrored Room—Love Forever 1966/1994

Inside Infinity Mirrored Room—Love Forever 1966/1994 (views during different lighting)

The smallest installation, Infinity Mirrored Room—Love Forever 1966/1994, was a chamber two people could peep into at once. The lighting changed every few seconds so the installation changed every few seconds.

Entry to Dots Obsession—Love Transformed into Dots

Entry to Dots Obsession—Love Transformed into Dots

I’m not a fan of the color pink unless it is in nature because I find the color to be too flat. However, in nature I like pink flowers because their colors are made up of gradations. In Dots Obsession—Love Transformed into Dots a big polka-dotted pink ball is filled with smaller polka-dotted pink balls.

Adding dots to the The Oblitation Room

Adding dots to the The Obliteration Room

Visitors applied themselves with gusto in the do-it-yourself The Obliteration Room. Before entering the installation people were given a strip of several colored dot stickers in various sizes. The installation had started out as an all white room with white furniture. The idea was to obliterate the room through the communal activity of obliteration.

The whole exhibit had a sense of participation because of the ability to interact with the installations, but being able to add to a creation by participating in the making of a work took the experience to a whole new level. I added dots where there were none, and added dots on dots, and added dots connecting dots. And I observed visitors around me also trying to find just the right place to add their contributions to obliterating the white room. It was a fascinating anthropological experience and made me consider how hungry people are to make connections to art and each other.

Viewers participating in adding dots to the The Obliteration Room

Viewers participating in adding dots to the The Obliteration Room

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