More is more with 'infinity mirror' rooms

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room - Gleaming Lights Of The Souls at Bonte Museum in Seogwipo, Jeju, South Korea.
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room - Gleaming Lights Of The Souls at Bonte Museum in Seogwipo, Jeju, South Korea. PHOTO: ST FILE

NEW YORK • It is strange to think about taking a room-sized, mirror-lined art installation designed to be a dazzlingly immersive and thoroughly self-contained aesthetic experience and putting it under the same roof as five other versions of the artwork.

But that is the idea at the heart of a 2017 survey of the Japanese ultra-pop artist Yayoi Kusama, which will host six of her attention-grabbing "infinity mirror" rooms alongside sculptures, paintings and drawings from her six-decade career.

Starting at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington in February next year, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is set to travel to the Seattle Art Museum and The Broad in Los Angeles that year, reaching the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2018.

The museums have high hopes for drawing big crowds, considering that just one "infinity mirror" room can generate seemingly endless lines and Instagram likes.

But the decision to bring so many examples together is also in keeping with the artist's "more is more" or "more is necessary" ethos: the hyper accumulation of objects and relentless repetition of images associated with her history of hallucinations and psychological trauma.

Her favourite motifs over the years include polka dots, applied everywhere from paintings to clothes; tumescent phallic forms made out of cloth, rag-doll style and used to cover floors or chairs like a lumpy style of upholstery; and shiny pumpkin sculptures painted yellow with black spots, often displayed in large croppings to make for a dizzying field of colour.

The mirrored rooms, where reflections within reflections seem to forever extend the visual field, play with these themes, from an early 1965 example (re-created this year) that makes a mountain of the phallus forms to a 2016 pumpkin extravaganza.

Both are part of the coming show, as is the flashy, LED-studded room owned by The Broad that recently served as the backdrop for an Adele performance of When We Were Young. (The singer said she had learnt about the installation from Katy Perry's Instagram feed.)

The Latin American survey Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Obsession broke records from Buenos Aires to Mexico City.

So many visitors flooded the Brazilian sites in 2014 (more than 8,500 on average daily) that Kusama was ranked the most popular artist in museums that year.

In 2012, a European retrospective of Kusama's work came to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, but made no other American stops.

The artist, 87, lives in Tokyo in a psychiatric hospital.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'More is more with 'infinity mirror' rooms'. Print Edition | Subscribe