Aside from the fact that the word "room" is in the title of several pieces, there isn't much about the new Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden that seems obviously architectural. Sure, the exhibition is staged along the curves of Gordon Bunshaft's donut-shaped building on the National Mall (and the museum couldn't resist plastering the exterior glass with red dots, reminiscent of a similar treatment applied to the Glass House last year), but the connection to architecture is more abstract—creating distinctions between the ideas of rooms and of spaces, words often used interchangeably in architecture.
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, which opened on Thursday and runs through May 14, features six of the artist's enclosed "Infinity Mirrored" rooms installed inside the gallery. These six rooms flop the definition of space delineated by walls. Interiors lined with mirrors reflect, endlessly, the contents. In these spaces, the contents of the room are more dominant than the room itself.
"The Hirshhorn’s circular architecture, which can be read as an infinite space in itself, provides an ideal setting for these constructed environments. Visitors exploring the building inevitably become part of the works, activating them by participating in Kusama’s sensory pilgrimage," notes Melissa Chiu, the museum's director, in the exhibition's catalog.
From the gallery, outside the enclosed rooms, the white boxes look too small to contain the space inside. But from inside, this endless repeat produces a feeling of claustrophobia—as if the removal of a room's four walls also removes any sense of scale. As William Grimes wrote in The New York Times back in 2013 about “Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away”: "It is a planetarium contained in a room the size of a large walk-in closet."
"Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors" runs through May 14 at the Hirshhorn before traveling to the Seattle Art Museum. Over the next three years, the exhibition will also be displayed at The Broad in Los Angeles, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.