Photos: Inside The Selfie-Ready Splendor Of The Broad's 'Infinity Mirrors' Rooms
Naturally, the hype over the "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” exhibit at The Broad has generated early takes on the famed mirrored rooms. Some say that, thanks to the milieu of snap-happy Instagrammers, the works have been reduced to a platform for vanity shots. Others posit that the rooms aren’t anywhere near as majestic or transformative as they seem in pictures. And so forth.
As such, the prevailing accomplishment of "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors", which opens Saturday at The Broad, is that it circles back to Kusama; the artist responsible for these hushed, lambent rooms; the source that preceded everything from social media, to influencers, to the hive mind engendered by FOMO. The exhibit gives us context and fills in the gaping expanse that’s generated by those many mirrors. Leaving “Infinity Mirrors” you get the sense of having witnessed an artist at work, wrangling with an idea that had once been vague, but is now actualized and distilled.
“This is not a retrospective,” warned Mika Yoshitake, a curator with the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, at a Wednesday pre-opening gathering at the Broad (Kusama, now 88, is still active today). “This is the first exhibition that considers the historical trajectory of the artist through continuing rooms. It explores the narrative arc, from a very disorienting experience, to the more ethereal of recent years," explains Yoshitake.
For background, ”Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” is billed as the first institutional survey of Kusama’s mirrored rooms (she’d made more than 20 in her career, and six of them will be in the "Infinity Mirrors" exhibit). The touring exhibit—organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden—is making its way through six venues across North America, with The Broad being the only stop in California.
The rooms are, of course, what compel people to wait in interminable online queues. The mirrors evoke a space without borders. This sense of freedom is juxtaposed with the reflected images of objects like gourds and flickering lanterns. The patterns impose a rigid order, and as such there’s a sense of dissonance that grumbles underneath. “Obsessive repetition is the leitmotif for her art,” L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight said in a 1998 review of one of Kusama’s mirrored rooms. This stands in contrast with Kusama’s less-claustrophobic take on repetition. ”The effect of infinite, constant repetition leads us to finding our ever-expanding hope,” Kusama explains in a video that greets visitors to the exhibit.
If you’ve already been to the Broad’s “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away," (which was already part of the museum's collection since day one, and is now included in the current Kusama exhibit), then a couple of the mirrored rooms may seem familiar. This is most true for “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity,” a darkened room that’s speckled with an endless supply of twinkling lanterns. The lights give a subtle flicker; the effect leads you to pay special attention to the space, so as to catch the effect in action. There’s also “Love Forever,” which is like the aforementioned rooms but compressed into its most elemental form. In contrast to the others, the lights here are bright and gaudy, recalling the manic colors of the Vegas Strip. You can’t step into “Love Forever," however, as it takes place in a small chamber that has little portholes for you to look through (with a mirror on the far end that’s pointed right at your face, so you can still take your selfie).
Outside of the light motif, there’s “Dots Obsession-Love Transformed Into Dots” which swaps out Kusama’s love for lights with her enduring fondness for dots. The giant pink balloons give you a sense of literal levity, furthering the notion of spacelessness. The dots are perhaps most prominent, however, in “The Obliteration Room,” which isn’t a mirrored room, but instead a fabricated domestic setting (i.e. something out of an IKEA catalog) that’s been painted over in white. You’ll get a handful of stickers/dots, and are given full permission to stick them wherever you want (within the room). As such, you spend your time combing for free space in the room, and looking at it from the perspective of another hypothetical guest, so as to see how they might spot your dot.
The dots are apparent once more in the “Phalli's Field” mirrored room, which, as indicated by its name, is an endless field of phallic objects that are splashed with dots. The sterility of the white light and ceiling somehow add to the comical effect of the room. And, as a Broad representative informed us, a touch of humor is indeed intended. Kusama has said that she’s held a lifelong abhorrence of sex, largely thanks to her womanizing father (when she was young her mother had instructed her to spy on his transgressions, the act of which had colored her view of sex). The dotted phallic objects, then, were a way for Kusama to demystify the fraught nature of sexuality.
It’s “All the Eternal Love I Have For The Pumpkins”, however, that may be the most personal room in the exhibit. “She grew up in a plant nursery, and [the room] recalls the memory of her grandfather taking her through the pumpkin fields,” said Yoshitake. And indeed the poignancy is easy to discern; the field of glowing gourds (laid against a dark backdrop) suggests something living, and thus ephemeral. This preciousness is reflected on a literal level, too: “Pumpkins” is the only room that you’re not allowed to snap a picture in, as a visitor in D.C. had dropped a camera and broken one of the gourds, bringing about the no-camera policy. “The pumpkins are made of fiberglass, with black vinyl stickers, with hand painted stems,” Yoshitake told LAist, noting the fragility of the pumpkins.
While the rooms are the main attraction, you’d be remiss in overlooking the collection of photographs, posters, articles, and other documents that delineate Kusama's life as an artist. One of the most revealing pieces is a set of schematics for a mirrored room: the fragile piece of paper, marked with frantic script, shows the humble beginnings of the work. Elsewhere, photographs reveal the political nature of Kusama’s works from the 1960s and beyond, as well as her meditations on the human body.
Other artworks show Kusama's progression as an artist, and reveal the roots of her love for patterns. As explained in the exhibition, the first lean years she spent in New York (in the 1950s) led her to work on her "Infinity Nets" paintings. The Broad describes the paintings as her form of “meditation,” an act in which she inscribed endless tiny arcs and worked “without composition—without beginning, end, or center.”
If you enter “Infinity Mirrors” with a feeling that Kusama and her pieces are inscrutable, the exhibit may reverse that. This isn’t to say that it reduces her work to something base. Rather, it prompts you to stop grasping for the elusive, inviting you instead to simply experience the thing that’s before you. Likewise, Kusama, in her taped message to visitors, is both plain-spoken and eloquent. “I live in nature. That is who I am,” says Kusama.
"Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors" runs from October 21 to January 1, 2018. Advanced tickets are sold out, but same-day standby tickets will be available each day on a first-come, first-served basis. Standby tickets will be $30 for adults. Children 12 and under are free, but still require a ticket. You can find more information here. Note that admission to The Broad does not include admission to "Infinity Mirrors." The Broad is at 221 S Grand Ave, in downtown Los Angeles. (213) 232-6200.