"With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved.
In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars. All of us live in the unfathomable mystery and infinitude of the universe."
- Yayoi Kusama
I can't remember when I first heard about Yayoi Kusama and her stunning Infinity Mirrors exhibit, but I do know that I've been wanting and trying to see it for years. It has seemed like wherever I have travelled, the show has either just finished or is starting after I leave!
When I heard last year that the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) was going to be hosting this exhibition (the only Canadian city to do so), I've eagerly awaited its arrival. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the media preview of this extraordinary show, which officially opened to members of the public this past weekend to overwhelming demand.
When the AGO opened the booking portal for tickets in January, thousands and thousands of people logged in, waiting for hours to snag a ticket to one of the hottest shows of the year. In three days, the AGO sold an astonishing 30,000 tickets, selling out well before the show opened! One of the most exciting things about this show is that it is drawing attention and a younger audience to the AGO, generating energy and excitement which will hopefully continue into the future attracting more shows like this one. For myself, this show inspired me to buy a membership to the AGO to explore everything the Gallery has to offer and engage in new ways.
Infinity Mirrors and the dreamworlds they create in six immersive rooms have to be seen in person to get the full effect. Yes, they look beautiful in photos, but are even more dazzling to experience. These worlds were created by Yayoi Kusama, the brilliantly talented 88 year old artist who lives in Tokyo (voluntarily in a mental hospital since 1977), and still actively creates art today. In addition to experiencing six of Kusama's most iconic works, there are more than 90 paintings (including her early Infinity Net paintings), sculptures, photographs, rare archival materials, and works on paper from the 1950s to current day to see.
In addition to the ticketed exhibit, you can see her 'Narcissus Garden' installation on the second floor (on view from February 24 - April 29, 2018), a beautiful 'garden' made of mirrored balls, which is open to general admission.
Kusama has been creating art and breaking new ground for over 60 years. During her time in New York (between 158 - 1973), Kusama moved in circles with fellow artists Andy Warhol and Allan Kaprow. It was during this time that she began creating her signature polka dot and net designs, transforming them into paintings, soft sculptures, installations, and performance-based art.
The first use of mirrors came with Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field, 1965 (the red-and-white polka dot themed installation), which multiplied and magnified the repetitive effect she was hoping to achieve, transcending physical limitations and creating an immersive experience.
Kusama was the first woman to have a solo presentation at Venice's Biennale's Japanese Pavilion in 1993, and was named on of the world's most influential people by Time Magazine in 2016.
Above, the famous 'Kusama pumpkins' can be viewed in her work called All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins. You aren't allowed to take photos while inside the room, but you can when outside the door looking in. You will also be escorted inside with a member of staff. This is apparently due to pumpkins being damaged in previous exhibitions held elsewhere and the art is fragile.
The pumpkins first appeared in some of Kusama’s drawings from the late 1940s and has regularly shown up in her paintings, sculptures, drawings and installations. Her first pumpkin mirrored room was staged in 1991 and later at the 1993 Venice Biennale. The concept of this room is for viewers to be transported into a space which recalls fairytales and fantasy.
Love Forever is a trippy feast for your eyes, allowing up to two viewers to look through small peepholes into this room. Looking inside, you can see yourself in a mirror directly opposite as well as the other viewer, making it feel quite voyeuristic. Kusama was experimenting with new technology when she created this room, which features dazzling lights, patterns and colours which change every few seconds. Her 1966 exhibition featured this work and she distributed buttons with her 'Love Forever' message printed on them. For her, this work stood for civil rights, sexual liberation, and the anti-war movement in the 1960s.
The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away takes you into a world of lights and mirrors resembling a galaxy. Hundreds of LED lights flicker and sparkle while you are inside activating the environment and becoming immersed into the infinite space. It is absolutely breathtaking to experience! I just wish that you could have longer than the allocated 30 seconds to experience it and really take it in.
Phalli’s Field arose from Kusama wanting a new way to create a hallucinatory scene of phallic-like shapes covered in red polka dots. Up until the point this room was created, Kusama had spent much of her time between 1962 and 1964 sewing thousands of stuffed fabric tubes and affixing them to furniture and other objects to create her sculptures; however, this became physically and mentally tiring. Her breakthrough moment came when she began to use mirrors to achieve the repetitive effect she envisioned, transcending her physical limitations, and making it an immersive experience for viewers.
Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity is another mesmerizing world comprised of flickering gold lanterns that seem to go on forever into black infinite space. Kusama's room is a reflection on the experience of death and potential afterlife, recalling the Japanese tradition of toro nagashi, a ceremony which sees paper lanterns float down a river to guide ancestral spirits back to the resting places on the final night of the summer Obon Festival.
Dots Obsession – Love Transformed Into Dots has you enter a large gallery room which has a rosy glow from the large pink polka-dotted balloons hanging from the ceiling and placed around the floor. Near the back of the room, you can enter a room inside one of the balloons, feeling a bit like you are entering a fuschia fairy-tale world. On the other end of the room, you get the opposite experience by peering into a small hole into a dazzling pink infinity mirror room.
The Obliteration Room is the final room of the exhibit. This room invites you to participate in completing the work. Upon entering the stark white room, set up to look like an everyday home with everyday objects, you are handed a sheet of coloured dot stickers and invited to place them anywhere in the room and on objects. I would love to see what this room looks like when the exhibition closes! Kusama's concept of obliteration is to find and create new expression on this white space as the coloured dots invite each visitor to participate on a journey to infinity one dot at a time.
For each of the mirrored rooms, you will join a line to enter. You may have the opportunity to go in by yourself or with two to four other people. You need to leave your bags just outside the exhibit (watched by AGO staff) and can enter for twenty to thirty seconds depending on the room. The staff have a stopwatch to time each entry and will give a soft knock on the door to let you know when five seconds are left. I wish that you could have more time inside the rooms as they are so dazzling and extraordinary that there just isn't enough time to properly take everything in. But, on the other hand, it forces you to be present and enjoy the moments you do have.
This extraordinary show is a visual delight, and you are encouraged to share your photos with the hashtag #infinitekusama. Part of the appeal and high demand to see Kusama's show has been driven through photos shared through Instagram. While you can bring your cameras and smartphones, you cannot bring in tripods or selfie sticks.
There will be a new batch of tickets released by the AGO on Tuesday March 6th at 10am online only. There will also be a very limited number of same-day timed tickets available on-site at the gallery. The show runs from March 3 to May 27, 2018.