The exhibition "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors," organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., features six of Japanese pop artist’s mirrored rooms as well as sculptures, collages, and paintings. Kusama, 88 years old, is known for her exploration of infinity using light, color, and pattern in dynamic spatial configurations. On display through May 14, the show—already a social media sensation due to its selfie-friendly aesthetics—presents the largest number of Kusama infinity rooms shown as part of the same exhibit. It will then travel until October 2018 with stops at the Seattle Art Museum, Los Angeles’ The Broad, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the High Museum in Atlanta.
After moving from Japan to New York in 1957, Kusama quickly became a fixture in the abstract expressionist movement of the 1960s, where she participated in performance art and developed her first infinity room. As evidenced by much of her work, Kusama was influenced by the activist and counterculture movements—free love, feminism, pacifism—of the time. Kusama returned to Japan in the 1970s, and has since voluntarily resided at a hospital for the mentally ill—though she still works at her nearby studio.
For this show, the infinity rooms are interspersed with Kusama’s other work, including tuber-covered furniture and sculptures, as well as paintings and videos. Due to the popularity of the exhibition, visitors must wait in individual lines for each room, which can accommodate up to three people at a time for around 30 seconds. In the first week alone, more than 14,000 visitors attended the show, which opened on Feb. 23. Each room is described below.
“Phalli’s Field” (1965/2016)
This work finds its origins in Kusama's stuffed fabric tubers. The artist sewed thousands of them for various independent sculpture projects and later decorated some with red polka dots for her first infinity mirror room in 1965 titled “Phalli’s Field.” (1965/2016). Kusama’s initial interest in creating the tubers was a self-prescribed desensitization treatment to cure her fear of sexual intercourse and the male form. According to the exhibit description, by placing the phallic sculptures in a mirrored room, the “reflective surfaces allowed her vision to transcend the physical limitations of her own productivity.” Gallery tracklighting provides overhead illumination, and a layer of Trevira Taffeta acts as a makeshift ceiling and diffuses the light, creating a sterile, white environment.
“Love Forever” (1966/1994)
While visitors cannot physically step into “Love Forever”, the hexagonal space with mirrored walls has two openings through which one can watch a 30-second, programmed sequence of thousands of incandescent lamps. Enclosed in the room, the ceiling-mounted lamps—which come in red, blue, green, yellow, and white—generate a noticeably heated environment that further contributes to the circus-like atmosphere. Visitors can see themselves and other museum-goers when peering into the room. Through the use of multi-changing light and the controlled viewpoint, the piece is meant to represent the social and political activism of the 1960s.
“Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” (2009)
In “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity,” individual acrylic lanterns, embedded with programmable LEDS, suspend from the ceiling on individual cords, at varying heights. The LEDs flicker on and off in a timed sequence to emulate the look of candlelight. The mirrored walls create the illusion of infinitesimal light, a reoccurring theme in the artist's work. For this installation, Kusama was inspired by the Japanese lantern lighting ceremonies to commemorate those killed by the detonation of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.
“The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” (2013)
Hundreds of green, red, blue, and yellow acrylic orbs, embedded LEDs, reflect off mirrored walls to create the impression of a galaxy of stars. Each cord holds either one or two orbs, and similar to “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity,” are suspended at different heights to fill the space. The LEDs are programmed in a timed sequence, at one point leaving visitors in complete darkness. As one of Kusama’s first forays into dimly lit spaces—a stark contrast from her earlier work—this room enables visitors to “contemplate their existence, reflect on the passage of time, and think about their relationship to the outer world,” according to the exhibit description.
All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016)
The only source of light in “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” comes from the 54 glass-pumpkin sculptures illuminated internally with LEDs. Charmed by their “whimsical form,” Kusama has incorporated pumpkins into her work since the 1940s. These sculptures are decorated with her signature motif of polka dots, a pattern made infinite by the mirrored walls. This room made news in February when a visitor tripped and smashed a pumpkin in an attempt to take a selfie.
Dots Obsession—Love Transformed Into Dots (2009)
Arguably the most architecturally distinct, “Dots Obsession—Love Transformed Into Dots” is embedded into a pink balloon dome with black polka dots. Inside, four more pink balloons—two measuring 50-, one measuring 75-, and one measuring 100-centimeters in diameter (approximately 19.7, 29.5, and 39.4 inches, respectively)—with black polka dots are suspended from the ceiling and internally illuminated with 60W E26 12V lamps.
"Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors," at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., is on view through May 14. hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama/