Reflecting On Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrors

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January 16, 2019

The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston has acquired Yayoi Kusama’s LOVE IS CALLING from 2013, which is now the largest Infinity Mirror Room piece by the artist to be owned by a North American museum. It is also the second major Room to make its way to the Boston area, after the installation Where the Lights in My Heart Go from 2016 was on view in the exhibition at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Purchased from David Zwirner gallery, the piece will go on view at the museum in the fall.

This acquisition is a major coup for the ICA, which only launched its permanent collection in 2006. It is the second work by the artist to enter the ICA's collection, as the museum has already owned her 1953 drawing titled A Flower (No. 14). As Jill Medvedow, the ICA Boston’s director, explains, this is an extremely important work historically:

LOVE IS CALLING showcases the breadth of the artist’s visual vocabulary—from her signature polka dots and soft sculptures, brilliant colors and the spoken word, to endless reflections and illusions of space and self. We are very grateful to our generous donors who made this acquisition possible, and look forward to sharing this immersive experience with our visitors for years to come.

Love is Calling 2013 by Yayoi Kusama

Love Is Calling

First exhibited in 2013 in an exhibition at David Zwirner in New York, Yayoi Kusama's LOVE IS CALLING drew thousands of visitors to the gallery who were willing to queue up for hours for a chance to experience it for just a few minutes. The installation was subsequently on view at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, as well as at the Tampa Museum of Art in Florida.

Measuring 14 by 28 feet, the work can accommodate around a dozen people at once. This immersive, experiential work of art is comprised of colorful, polka-dotted tentacle-like soft sculptures, situated on the floor and ceiling of a mirrored room and glowing with changing colors. As is the case with all Kusama's Infinity Rooms, the walls of the space are covered with mirrors for the kaleidoscopic effect, creating a dazzling landscape which appears to extend into infinity.

As they walk throughout the installation, the visitors can hear the audio of Kusama reading a love poem she wrote in Japanese, translating to Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears. For the artist, love is an eternal theme, forever emanating outwards from herself to all people, living things, and the universe.

Infinity Mirrored Room- Filled With the Brilliance of Life, arts installation by Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama - Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled With the Brilliance of Life at Tate Modern. Image via Loz Pycock

The Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrors

One of today’s most recognized and celebrated Japanese artists, Yayoi Kusama has indelibly shaped some of the most important art movements of the twentieth century, including Minimalism, Pop Art, and Feminist and Performance Art. She is perhaps best known for her widely celebrated Infinity Rooms. Featuring mirrored walls, ceilings and floors and the occasional reflecting pool, these immersive chambers are filled with colored lights, polka dots, sculptures and other motifs which multiply endlessly, subsuming the visitors within their reflective depths.

Infinity and self-obliteration are central preoccupations for Kusama, who frequently uses polka dots to conjure the impression of vast, endless space, with the motif appearing throughout the oeuvre. She once recalled:

One day, after gazing at a pattern of red flowers on the tablecloth, I looked up to see that the ceiling, the windows, and the columns seemed to be plastered with the same red floral pattern. I saw the entire room, my entire body, and the entire universe covered with red flowers, and in that instant my soul was obliterated and I was restored, returned to infinity, to eternal time and absolute space.

The first of these environments was created in 1965. In Kusama's piece titled Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field, she first used mirrors to transform the intense repetition that marked some of her earlier works into an enveloping, seemingly endless experience. After returning to Japan in 1973, she continued to develop these installations with mirrors, creating truly immense and immersive environments. Each of these rooms offers a truly extraordinary experience and a sensory journey through the artist’s world.

Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field by Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama - Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field. Image via Alan Teo

Infinity Mirror Rooms Around the World

Yayoi Kusama saw a resurgence in interest in her arts in the late 2000s, right around the time smartphones were rising to ubiquity. Since then, her Infinity Mirror Rooms have sparked a selfie frenzy amongst the visitors. We can witness the endless stream of photos of museumgoers - individuals, couples, children – holding smartphones up to the reflective surfaces. The rise of art selfies has created a sort of a backlash in Kusama's case, as some of the media accused her of being an artist who “stoops to conquer with mirrored ‘infinity’ rooms that attract hordes of selfie-seekers”.

At the moment, there are several museums where you can see the Infinity Mirrors by the Japanese acclaimed artist. The Broad in Los Angeles has on view two Infinity Mirror Rooms  - The Soul of Millions of Light Years Away and Longing for Eternity, both accessible with a general admission ticket with a reserved time for viewing; The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark has Gleaming Lights of the Souls in their collection, describing it as "one of the most beloved pieces in the museum collection"The Mattress Factory in Pittsburg features and exhibition of Repetitive Vision and Infinity Dots Mirrored Room, the largest of their kind; Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane features Soul Under the Moon, while The National Gallery of Australia in Canberra features and exhibition of Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended Into the Heavens; the Phoenix Art Museum features You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies; the North Carolina Museum of Art acquired Light of Life; Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo features an exhibition of Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity, a site-specific installation covering the entire fourth floor. Finally, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam has in its collection the first ever Infinity Room titled Phalli's Field.

In the majority of these exhibition rooms, visitors get a very limited time, per the request of Kusama herself. So instead of taking a selfie, you should use it wisely to truly immerse yourself and take everything in.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrors arts exhibition at hirshhorn museum, Mirrored Room—All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins by Yayoi Kusama hirshhorn museum
Left: Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrors. Image via Theresa C. Sanchez / Right: Yayoi Kusama - Mirrored Room—All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC. Image via IIP Photo Archive

  Editors’ Tip: Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

This book explores Yayoi Kusama’s best-known and most spectacular series―the Infinity Mirror Rooms―and its influence on the course of contemporary art over the past 50 years. By examining her early unsettling arts installations alongside her more recent ethereal atmospheres, this volume aims to historicize the body of work amidst the resurgence of experiential practices within the global landscape of contemporary arts. Generously illustrated, this publication invites readers to examine the series’ impact over the course of the artist’s career. Accompanying essays, an interview with the artist, and a scholarly chronology round out the book.

Featured images: Yayoi Kusama with her work LOVE IS CALLING during her solo exhibition “I Who Have Arrived In Heaven” at David Zwirner in New York in 2013. ©Yayoi Kusama/Courtesy David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo, Singapore, and Shanghai; and Victoria Miro, London and Venice; Yayoi Kusama - Infinity Room. Image Creative Commons via Pablo Trincado.

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