Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is currently having an exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, runs through September 10, 2017.  This exhibit is hugely popular, online tickets sold out quickly and hours were extended.  While they have tickets available each day for those who walk in, they regularly sell out by late morning.  I am a SAM member and got my ticket back in May for July 30, the last weekend spot available online at that time.

I really loved the exhibit, in my opinion it is worth the lines and the wait.  Kusama is 88 years old and this is a result of decades of her creativity.  There are paintings, sculpture and the mirrored Infinity Rooms which are what is drawing the public to this exhibit in droves.

Infinity Mirror Room–Phalli’s Field, Yayoi Kusama, 1965

The first room I entered was the Infinity Mirror Room–Phalli’s Field.  When I stepped in the Infinity Room titled Phalli's Field I gasped and said "Oh wow, look at this!" the effect of mirrors upon mirrors in every direction and the fun and colorful sculptures on the floor transported me to an otherworldly place.  This room had a twenty second time limit and oddly twenty seconds didn't feel too short.  In twenty seconds I saw myself, the other two visitors and the little spotted sculptures replicated hundreds of times, bouncing around from mirror to mirror and back again.  If The Obliteration Room I would visit later felt like stepping into a painting, Phalli's Field felt like stepping into a fairy tale.

Something odd happened when the museum attendant knocked on the door and opened it, I saw everyone in line ahead of me I knew when they knocked and opened the door you were meant to walk out, I was too disoriented to walk right out.  I went to the door confused and I had only been in there 20 seconds.  I had to sit down afterwards, I felt completely disoriented and I hadn't expected to.

The Obliteration Room, Yayoi Kusama, 2002-present, installed 2017

For the mirrored infinity rooms there is a very short time limit to how long you can stay in the room.  However The Obliteration Room (pictured above and below) have no such time limit and the visitors are part of the art experience.  The room started out as an all white room the day the exhibit opened and every visitor is handed five stickers which must be used in the room (I added mine all to the sofas).  After thousands of visitors the room is a dizzying blur of color, it is hard to make out any of the objects.  Visitors are encouraged to sit on sofas and chairs.  There are a wide variety of objects: shelves, a bicycle, furniture, etc. and with each newly added sticker the objects begin to become indistinguishable from one another.  The visitors become artists and also part of the art, it is like walking into the middle of a painting, perhaps an Op Art painting, perhaps a Pointillist painting or an Australian Aboriginal painting.  It was a fun experience, but also disorienting to the viewer. 

Blog author Carol Hendricks in The Obliteration Room, Yayoi Kusama, 2002-present, installed 2017

Actually each of the four Infinity Rooms that can be entered constitutes a disorienting experience.  There is a wait to enter each of the rooms (Infinity Rooms only, not The Obliteration Room), for me it was between 5-15 minutes per room and then visitors are only permitted to stay in each room for 30 seconds.

Hearing that may dissuade someone from visiting, why spend 30-40 minutes standing in lines for 30 seconds in each room?  I will say that standing in line was actually part of the experience, while no one loves lines, it does build up a feeling of anticipation that for me added to the actual experience of being in the rooms.

Dots Obsession–Love Transformed into Dots, Yayoi Kusama, 2007

The second Infinity Room I went into was designed in 2016 and called Infinity Mirrored Room–All the Eternal Love I Have for the PumpkinsI was talking to the woman behind me in line and it was nice to interact with strangers who were all experiencing the same thing, wondering what we would see next, talking about the different sort of art viewing experience at this exhibit and which was your favorite. There was no photography in that room and a museum attendant went in the room with you to enforce that (follow the link and scroll down for a view of it). I had taken a photo in the first room and having that rule just let me spend the time in there taking it all in, mirrors and a black floor and glowing pumpkin sculptures covered in black dots.  It was another visit to a fairy tale or perhaps the inside of a kaleidoscope.  We asked the attendant if she got tired of being in the room and she said no but they switched after 30 minutes.  I can imagine you would really start to feel dizzy.  Again I felt completely disoriented as I left.

The room for Dots Obsession–Love Transformed into Dots was bigger and the time limit a bit longer, this time I only had a 5 minute wait in line as opposed to a 10 minute wait for the first room and a 15 minute wait for the second.  I felt less disoriented that time but took a break and looked at sculpture and painting before I went on.

Life (Repetitive Vision), Yayoi Kusama, 1998

Kusama's paintings and sculptures make you want to reach out and touch them.  They were done earlier and her ideas of surface and repetition are seen here.  I found them really compelling and all her work to be incredibly creative.  There were two more Infinity Rooms that a visitor could just look into rather than stepping into, both filled with dazzling lights and mirrors reflecting images again and again until you didn't know what you were looking at.

My favorite room was the one I went into last, the Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. This featured dim lighting with small flickering lanterns.  I didn't want to leave, but again 30 seconds felt like a longer span of time.  I started with a quick photo and then put my camera away so I could take in my surroundings and try and remember it, but I don't think I really could remember it as it was both so brief and so overwhelming.

Infinity Mirrored Room–Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2016, Yayoi Kusama

I work with a local arts writer who got a first look at the show during the press viewing.  During this viewing there were no lines (and The Obliteration Room was all white) and another co-worker who accompanied them said while she really enjoyed seeing it, she understood why the visits were limited to being such short experiences after she went in multiple times.  Not because of the crowds or the lines, but as part of the artist's vision to create a beautiful illusion which leaves the visitor wanting more.  I would say every visitor does leave wanting more, more of the crazily creative and overwhelming sensations; the dizzying, disorienting and utterly magical experiences that the Infinity Mirrors provides.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors 2017-2018 exhibition tour

Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, February 23 to May 14, 2017

Seattle Art Museum, June 29 to September 10, 2017

Broad Museumfrom October 21, 2017 to January 1, 2018

Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto from March 3 to May 27, 2018

Cleveland Museum of Art from July 7 to September 30, 2018

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