My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbound universe, from my own position in it, with dots.
Stitching together six of eccentric Japanese conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama’s signature infinity mirror chambers as well a meticulously curated selection of paintings, historical photographs, posters, and videos documenting her prolific sixty-year career, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, currently on display at downtown Los Angeles’ celebrated Broad Museum, celebrates Kusama’s vibrant maximalist style. This visiting special exhibition is surprisingly the first comprehensive museum survey highlighting the artist’s beloved infinity mirror rooms. So far, these shed-sized chambers filled with immersive lights and mirrors have garnered much attention in the city, sparking 90,000 advance tickets to sell out in mere hours. Due to lengthy lineups, guests are limited to 30 seconds inside each room.
Inside each infinity chamber, visitors will find the interior walls lined with five rectangular mirrored panels. The ceiling also features up to 25 square mirrors. These reflections create the illusion that the room extends into infinity by reproducing the lights and sculptures inside many times over. This expansive quality packed into such a compact space creates an overwhelming sense of wonder, joy, and disorientation. Upon entering these rooms, the door closes behind you and the outside world immediately vanishes. You see yourself reflected in the piece countless times and soon begin to see yourself as infinite. This focus on visual echoes is repeated ad infinitum as guests enter the exhibit and Kusama reveals in an introductory video, ”the effect of infinite, constant repetition leads us to finding our ever-expanding hope.”
We can feel this radiant optimism in 2007’s Dots Obsession-Love Transformed Into Dots. Here we see numerous oversized magenta balloons fashioned out of vinyl and covered in black polka dots. These hanging beach ball-like structures offer a sense of youthful levity and resemble stars diffusing out into an endless field.
Kusama’s obsessive devotion to dots can also be witnessed in 2016’s All the Eternal Love I Have for Pumpkins where the eye is seduced by several speckled gourds reflected into the distance, shrinking with each iteration until almost imperceptible. These glowing fiberglass forms with hand painted stems boast a fragile, living quality. This room may be the most personal for the artist as she grew up on a plant nursery. Kusama has revealed in the past that she has fond memories of her grandfather taking her out to play in the pumpkin fields.
A more sinister side of Kusama’s childlike aesthetic can be found in 1965’s Phalli’s Field, her first mirrored room. Here we see the floor covered with soft, hand-sewn phallic sculptures. Resembling stuffed animals, these sculptures do feature the connotation of childhood innocence. Kusama’s preoccupation with this sexual theme again can be traced back to her childhood. Her mother was always suspicious of Kusama’s cheating father and the young artist would often help her mother spy on him. This early exposure to the dangers and negative emotions surrounding sex traumatized Kusama, sparking an intense fear of the act. The viewer can see her grappling with this anguish and her lost innocence through this repetitive depiction of phalluses.
Also, Kusama’s trademark whimsical dots can also be traced back to her early memories as she remembers seeing, “flashes of light, auras or dense fields of dots” in her visual field starting at ten years old.
In 2009’s Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, Kusama’s dots are transformed into twinkling, star-like lanterns as her work takes on a philosophical, astronomy-centric tone. The viewer is no longer a subject here, but a dark figure standing on a catwalk while awakening to the Buddhist notion that personhood is an illusion. Here obliteration is not a negative, but a therapeutic positive. The destruction of personal identity here surprisingly creates infinite space and peace in the heart. This exhibition’s wall text also hints at this possible meanings with Kusama revealing, “by obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe.” The personal and universal are one in this supernova-esque environment. For the artist, there is hope and joy in the death of personal attachment and the afterlife. She hopes that guests will reflect on these ideas and come to their own conclusions.
In addition to the blockbuster mirrored infinity rooms, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors also presents a quieter, more intimate connection to the artist through a wide variety rarely-seen archival photographs, posters, articles, revealing notes and drawings, as well as early plans for mirrored rooms.
Since 1965, Kusama has created over 20 of these wildly innovative, eye-catching spaces bursting with vibrant colors, whimsical shapes, and majestic lights. Perhaps stemming from her friendships with Donald Judd, Yoko Ono, Eva Hesse, and Joseph Cornell in New York in the 1960s, Kusama has endlessly experimented with surrealist, pop, and minimalist influences. Her psychedelic aesthetic certainly fits with the hippie culture, growing American awareness of transcendental meditation, and drug use common in this era. After two nervous breakdowns, one in 1973 and the other in 1977, Kusama returned to Japan to live in the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill. She voluntarily resides there and works in a nearby studio to this very day. Known for her quirky vermillion wig and polka-dot laden ensembles, Kusama remains an ever-popular staple in the art world, setting a record for female artists with her 2014 sale of a $7.1 million dollar piece. She also opened her own museum in Tokyo earlier this year.
With its otherworldly atmospheres, hypnotic patterns, and awe-inspiring visual metaphors, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is more than just an entertaining selfie stop, it is a testament to this 88 year-old artist’s remarkable life and career, as well as monument to the obliteration of the ego.