An Infinite Phenomenon: Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors
Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors Exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art Sparkles with Hope and Eternity
Yayoi Kusama is one of the most significant artists of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Time Magazine named her one of the world’s most influential people in 2016. Just this year, a museum dedicated to her works opened in Tokyo, Japan, with her active cooperation, and at nearly 90 years old still works each day on her amazing creations and is actively involved in sharing her art with the world.
Her latest and most eye-pleasing exhibition, Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors, is on its second to last stop on its six-museum tour at the Cleveland Museum of Art until September 30th. If you can’t get there or to Atlanta, Georgia from November until the end of February, we’ll try to give you a hint at the scope and power of this amazing exhibition from one of the world’s most significant artists.
Infinity Mirrors is a celebration of Kusama’s 65-year career. From her earliest painting and performance art of the 1960’s, to her enormous immersive light installations that capture her quest for the eternal, CMA’s exhibition guides not just viewers or patrons, but interactive participants in a sensory journey.
Even before stepping inside the museum, her art is already in full display in the surrounding area, depicted by polka dot patterns that adorn the trees. Inside, giant inflatable polka-dot balls and stainless steel spheres dominate the enormous atrium and greet you as you enter the exhibit, while the intimate and alluring mirror rooms bring you a sense of the joy, the exuberance, and the enduring hope of the artist.
Our advice for this exhibit? Savor it. Go slowly through each piece and display. Take your time and study each area, and you will revel in the mind and creativity of the artist, and begin to realize the artist’s humor, her love for humanity, and her spirituality.
The first interactive chamber you’ll come across is Phalli’s Field, a display that hearkens back to the 1960’s and 1970’s, when Kusama worked in New York. The first picture is of Kusama when her creation was first displayed, and the second image is from inside the CMA. Phalli’s Field is Kusama’s way of dealing with her timidity towards sex and her drive to overcome it, by providing an entire field with phallic-shaped, soft sculptures reflected in her Infinity Mirrors, which seem to go on forever.
Throughout the exhibit, there is an interplay of seven immersive rooms containing Kusama’s infinite mirrors and set pieces, and unfortunately in these areas your time is limited, (you can stay inside the room for 20 to 30 seconds, but non-flash cameras are allowed in) not just due to the crowds but because of the artist’s intent. Even so the effects on your eyesight can be a bit overwhelming.
Many of her early works are included, such as her Accumulation or soft sculptures which are the precursors to works like Phalli’s Field, and other soft sculpture pieces that secured her reputation during the turbulent 60’s and 70’s. She staged ‘polka dot happenings’ during this period and even the trees surrounding the museum have been covered as part of the Kusama experience. From her love of pumpkins to her vision of the eternal, Kusuma’s works are filled with an abundance of hope, humor and spirituality that transcends everyday expression.
Of the seven immersive rooms, we were most deeply moved by the Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. Standing in the dark, surrounded by mirrors and light, we felt a connection with, and part of, the ever changing cosmos. It was an unfettered illumination of the soul, even if it only lasted for 30 seconds. They were unforgettable.
From there we experienced the comfort of Kusama’s pink polka dot balls. Somehow such simple set of images, even with their own immersive experience, brought us back down from the cosmos and safely back to the reality of earth.
There is nothing actually simple about Kusama’s art or her worldvision. Her works are dynamic, interactive and thought provoking, with just enough humor and affection to make them accessible to everyone.
After experiencing this amazing exhibition, we were able to chat with Reto Thüring, Curator of Contemporary Art and Chair of Modern, Contemporary, Decorative Arts, and Performing Arts and Film, Emily Liebert, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, and Mika Yoshitake of the Hirshhorn Museum, who worked closely with Kusama to mount this spectacular exhibition.
“We’ve had the best experience with Cleveland.” Yoshitake observed. She first envisioned this exhibit in 2014, was instrumental in the planning and implementation of the exhibit, and has accompanied it to its five locations. She praised the museum space, and her fellow curators, for mounting this enormous and important show. “We received it in 2014 and I had been with her quite a while, my expertise is in post–war Japanese art, so the director [of the Hirshhorn] and I discussed an exhibition that could really be an impact on the masses and try to bring in a lot of non-art people. Kusama is someone I have often thought of as transnational, and she’s had such a long, exciting career. Her popularity really started to expand around 2012, when the social media industry really reached its peak.”
“The Infinite Mirrors part of her show really had not had much focus brought to it, so when we approached her [Kusama] in 2014 about a mirror exhibition as well as her art over the past 50 years, she was very excited. Because the exhibition is so large, since it covers 6 or 7 rooms, we had to find museums with the space to participate. So that’s how we were able to bring the exhibit here to the Cleveland Museum of Art.”
As we noticed throughout the exhibition, there was a constant underlying theme of hope. We even asked if Kusama believed in ghosts, and learned that the artist referred to them as ‘spirits’ and that their presence was very much a part of her work. As for hope, we asked how she could be hopeful in such a world today.
“I think that you’re only going to get the kind of genuine hope from someone who’s had a lot of darkness and struggle in her life,” Yoshitake replied, “She’s been through World War 2, and the Depression and a lot of atrocity and managed to get through it. They say that art traditionally is a form of healing for some and it’s really a process she believes in. She still goes in every day to produce these works, at 89 years old, and she’s just finished recently a mirror display that uses flowers.”
“When it comes to the mirror displays, she’s always had an obsession with creating the infinite motifs whether it be painting, or creating objects, and mirrors were really the next logical step to explore.” Yoshitake explained.
Reto Thüring summed up the importance of Kusama’s work and its impact on all our lives. “I think her care for the next generation has been an aspect of her life from the very beginning. She’s always had this idea of an expansion kind of movement so that her work could reach as many people as possible. Not just with the mirrors, but with her sculptures and her art. This has been her continuous narrative, and it’s a beautiful aspect of this exhibition.”
Photos courtesy of Eric Rodman.
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