Artist, Rebel & Living Legend Yayoi Kusama Launches a Major Five-City Exhibition Tour
Artwork: Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013. Wood, metal, glass mirrors, plastic, acrylic panel, rubber, LED lighting system, acrylic balls, and water, 113 1/4 x 163 1/2 x 163 1/2 in. Courtesy of David Zwirner, N.Y. © Yayoi Kusama (detail)
“Art is like an endless ocean. I can feel a sense of infinity, the heaven and sky—all a sense of infinity that I can feel through the ocean,” Yayoi Kusama tells Melissa Chiu in a conversation in Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, the exhibition catalogue published by DelMonico Books/Prestel that accompanies an exhibition by the same name at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. this February. The Hirshhorn is the first stop on a two-year, five-city tour; a full list of venues and dates appears at the end of this story.
Infinity Mirrors is one of the most anticipated exhibitions of 2017, as it includes six of Kusama’s mindblowing Infinity Mirror Rooms. By now you’ve seen them in countless selfies taken by museum attendees around the world. Kusama has constructed magical spaces that capture the captivating expanse of vast, unknowable universe in rooms filled with multi-colored LED lights. All the surfaces are mirrors so that the result is a gloriously expansive sense of being launched into outer space.
With the Infinity Mirror Rooms, Kusama, who turns 88 in March, captures the sheer joy and pleasure the act of seeing entails. The simplicity of color, light, and repetition to the point of oblivion creates a deep sense of peace, love, and safety in that which could easily swallow us whole. Her work is not merely beautiful or majestic, it is profound, drawn from the deepest, darkest corners of her soul and produced as an act of healing and spiritual growth.
Four decades ago, in 1977, Kusama checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she continues to live, taking the curse of her illness and transforming it into a gift. Where many artists have been destroyed by their minds, Kusama has found a way to make peace through the act of creating art. Infinity Mirrors is a tribute to one woman’s crusade, her commitment to her life’s purpose, and her ability to use art as a form of poetry, philosophy, and prophecy alike.
With the polka dot being her central motif, Kusama returns to the very origin of life itself, to the world where being can be reduced to a single dimension. In paring existence down to its purest form, Kusama has discovered the infinite that resides within the simplified world. She understands this as a metaphor for all things, telling The New York Free Press in 1968, “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos.”
This knowledge is rooted in the visual and auditory hallucinations she began experiencing at the age of six. As Miwako Tezuka explains in the catalogue’s chronology, “Unable to comprehend or speak about such illusions (now understood as symptoms of neurosis), Kusama begins drawing pictures of these sensations and experiences. Kusama’s mother does not understand her need to draw and paint, and she forbids the child from practicing art. Her anger frequently descends into physical abuse targeted at Kusama, who is the only member of the family to shun filial duties and social conformity.”
Despite her trauma, Kusama remained true to herself, dedicating her life to visually articulating her mind from the inside out. Her paintings, installations, and performance art works are wholly original, unlike anything before or since, but completely in keeping with the times when they were produced. Kusama is like the Oracle, speaking of fortunes and fates, striking the balance between the beautiful and the grotesque, wholly seizing the very essence of the now.
It is this immediacy that makes Kusama’s art appealing to people from all walks of life: it is not just aesthetically compelling—it is relatable. Even without knowing the details of her story, it is easy to feel the way in which Kusama speaks of the timeless beauty of oblivion and our desire to connect to it.
Of her legacy, Kusama tells Chiu, “My art will continue to fight. I am focused on creation with all my energy. My works talk to people all over the world….I have real hope. I want to bring joy and happiness through art. I have no regrets to have spent my life making art.”
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors U.S. Tour:
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, Feb 23–May 14, 2017
Seattle Art Museum, June 30–Sept 10, 2017
The Broad, Los Angeles, Oct 21, 2017–Jan 10, 2018
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, March 3–May 27, 2018
Cleveland Museum of Art, July 9–Sept 30, 2018
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.