2017–03–03 / Yayoi Kusama — Infinity Mirrors
Just a few months ago I didn’t know about Yayoi Kusama. And even if I heard her name I’m sure I didn’t pay attention. Even though I enjoy modern art pretty much, I’ve got to appreciate it just recently and to big surprise of surrounding people I miss a lot common knowledge about it.
Back in November myself and Irena were in Japan, hunting for momiji. On the night before going back we were hanging out with Andrew Tsu around Shinjuku, Tokyo and at some point he mentioned that nearby there is a mentally ill hospital where one of his favorite artists dwells. Or something like that. I just LOLD in reply and forgot about that (shame on me).
A month later, while on the flight to Quito, Ecuador, Irena was reading an in-flight magazine story about Japan and showed me a big orange pumpkin. That probably was the first time when I heard name of Yayoi Kusama and didn’t forget about it next moment. Once we were back to Washington, DC, to our great surprise it turned out there is going to be an exhibition of Yayoi Kusama artwork.
Infinity Mirrors is a retrospective of 50 years of her work. IMHO Washington, DC is not the trendiest place in terms of modern art, but we’re lucky to have this exhibition at Hirshorn and tickets are free. Moreover, it looks like it will be traveling through US and Canada from here on so we’re amongst the first to see. Unbelievably lucky.
As I learned later, around the same time there is at least one more exhibition of her artwork — in Tokyo, but I don’t know much details about that one.
We’ve got free tickets for the Friday afternoon. Leaving a bit earlier from work, frustrating from metro for about an hour, standing in the line on freezing cold wind for 15 minutes and here we are — taking an escalator to the second floor of Hirshorn, where the exhibition takes place.
Infinity Mirrors takes the whole second floor of Hirshorn. As floors there are circular and made of galleries connected to each other you begin and finish in the same place — near the escalators. Once you’re in you can move freely between galleries with the only exception of “Room of Obliteration” which serves as an exhibition culmination and “point of no return”.
Not all galleries have mirror rooms in them (as there are more galleries than mirror rooms) but there is a lot of other artowrk around there — paintings, installations, movies and so on.
From the very first moments after entering the exhibition I was not sure whether it’s something wrong with me so that I see only phalluses around or is it what I supposed to see?.. Luckily there was an explanatory note nearby explaining that yeah, it’s all phalluses.
The exhibition just recently opened and draws a lot of people. Even though number of tickets per day is strictly limited and you have not more than 20 seconds to enjoy each of the mirror rooms, the lines are infinity long and when we were there we had to wait for about 20 minutes to get into each of the rooms. Somehow reminds me about Japan…
An important thing to keep in mind is that usually there are 2 lines for each room: for groups and for singles. The later one, obviously, moves faster. Each time mirror room opens it door at least 3 people come in. So unless your group has at least 3 people in it be prepared to share the experience with a stranger from “singles” line.
As we moved further through exhibition I realized that, against my expectations, only first few galleries are phallic all out. As you move forward you can enjoy all sorts for art themes — it turns out that each of galleries represent certain period of Kusama’s life and her art at that time.
The exhibition features six “infinity rooms” but only five of them are really “rooms” and one is rather a “box”. It’s called Love Forever and it’s located just after the Phalli’s Field so it’s relatively easy to miss it out — just after leaving the first of “infinity rooms” you probably will be impressed and can just walk past it.
Even though it’s “just a box”, it’s still an interesting experience. It actually has 2 windows that you can peek through inside and I have a feeling that it’s expected that couples will split into different lines in order to experience it together. We actually missed that point during the visit but I hope we will have another chance.
Even though I mentioned before that there usually at least 3 people inside a room we were lucky with Phalli’s Field and the rule is not applcable for Love Forever. The next “infinity room” on our path was The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away and from here on we weren’t so lucky. The moment the door to the room has opened our companion from “singles line” jumped inside with a lightning speed and took the best spot to take selfies. Not that I have any bad feeling about her but that was a moment when we realized that we didn’t prepare enough and are probably too laid back to take good selfies.
Our next stop was Dots Obsession gallery. It actually consists of number of installations. First of all, there are big pink balloons. Everywhere. They’re on the walls, on the floor, on the ceiling. There are big ones and small ones.
You can walk-in into one of them, which is another “infinity room”. Inside, same as outside, a lot of polka-dotted balloons that serve the main purpose of obstructing your view.
Within this gallery there are actually 2 “infinity rooms” — the second one is another “box” that you can just peek into.
Moving forward we ended up in a line for Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. I had a feeling that it was one of the longest lines we saw at the exhibition. Although already a bit tired, while in the line we were able to explore other installations in the room.
It’s indeed interesting and keeps the mood but in my opinion it cannot compare to “infinity rooms”. Probably if it was made into a separate exhibition I’d appreciate it a lot more.
By the time we were entering Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity room we were “prepared” and instantly rushed as deep into the room as we could. I still feel sorry a bit for our companion at that time but on the other hand it proved to be a more enjoyable way to experience the room —go to the furthest possible point. Not only we were able to snap a nice photo but also the level of immersion is a way deeper.
That’s probably was the moment when I regretted the most that I didn’t bring my camera with me — in a low light a phone camera is a pity. On the other hand, may I come to the exhibition again I’m not sure whether I would like to take my camera with me or I will just try my best to enjoy all the rooms in 20 seconds per each with minimal distractions.
The last “infinity room” on our route was All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins — the one that we anticipated the most. Although I liked all of them, this one is my favorite.
Few days after the exhibition we learned that, in some way, we were pretty lucky. With all the mirrors around it’s not surprise that some people might freak out or just loose coordination—and that’s how one of those cute polka-dotted pumpkins was damaged just a week before. The rooms was closed for few days while they were fixing it and I’m really glad that it was re-opened before our visit since missing the All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins would’ve been a disaster.
Room of Obliteration is the final stop of the exhibition and serves as the exit. It’s not an “infinity room” but we still enjoyed it a lot and in my opinion it’s on par with other rooms within the exhibition.
One hand, it’s so crowded that it’s just impossible to take a proper photo of the room without somebody jumping into the frame. On the other hand, all of the photos we were able to take without people in them felt somehow sad so we decided to go with those that have someone in them. Luckily, not only the room itself but the audience as well was pretty colorful so it rather felt like that it was designed that way.
Before you enter Room of Obliteration you given a set of colorful sticker dots that you supposed to put somewhere in the room. I’m wondering what was the initial state of the room — was it blank empty or they bootstrapped it with some stickers to encourage visitors to “join the party”?
Whenever I take a look at the photo above it reminds me about my trip to Pripyat, Ukraine — where you can wander through abandoned apartments an experience similar scenery with the only difference of colorful dots being replaced by thick layers of dust.
At this point, while exiting the exhibition, I’m pretty excited as I enjoyed every part of it and had a lot of fun. But on the other hand Room of Obliteration makes me wonder whether all of the rooms we saw were supposed to entertain us or perceiving them as a fun is just a misunderstanding of what Yayoi Kusama actually wanted to tell us?..