Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors works are rooms full of nearly psychedelic art experiences—the perfect art for an age when artistic success is increasingly measured by how good the art looks in selfies with visitors.

Nothing proclaims “I visited The Broad!” quite like a selfie snapped inside of Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” (2013). It conveys that you came to Los Angeles’ Instagram-burnished temple to Eli and Edythe Broad’s blue-chip contemporary art collection, saw this kaleidoscopic work and, perhaps most importantly, that you conquered the long wait that has come to define the experience practically as much as viewing the work itself.

I first encountered the sensorial splendor of Kusama’s infinity rooms in 2015, at a fascinating retrospective, “Yayoi Kasuma: In Infinity,” at Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The line wasn’t too onerous, and after a 30-minute wait my daughters and I entered “Gleaming Lights of the Souls,” an installation in a darkened, 4-by-4-meter space. The walls and ceiling were covered in mirrors; the floor was a platform hovering above a reflecting pool of water.

The enigmatic 88-year-old Kusama has long employed repetition of dots and lights to celebrate life and examine immortality. Her mirror-lined installations — which include immersive, walk-in environments as well as peep show-like enclosures that one peers into — endlessly reflect everything in the space, be it yellow and black polka-dotted pumpkin sculptures, multicolored lights or the viewer herself, who becomes cast as a subject of the work.

Since the Broad Museum opened in 2015, its “Infinity Mirrored Room” has become a cultural phenomenon, accommodating about 500 daily visitors who strategize about how best to use their scant 45 seconds in the space. Same-day reservations are booked on a first-come, first-served basis and quickly fill. The mirror-lined chamber is populated with a dazzling array of LED lights, creating an awe-inspiring sense of limitlessness.

This fall, the popular work will be one of six Infinity Mirrored Rooms — along with paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from the early 1950s to the present — in the exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity,” on display at The Broad from October 21 through the end of the year.

In an era when cultural consumers put a premium on participation, Kusama’s works offer the ultimate: a moment when you are the star in a cosmic fantasyland. Ironically, Kusama has expressed that what she hopes to achieve with her work is an “obliteration” of the self — a oneness with the absolute. She began using mirrors in 1965, discovering that with them she could transcend the limitations of her own productivity and achieve the boundless repetition that is crucial to her expression.

Born in 1929, Kusama grew up near her family’s plant nursery in Matsumoto, Japan. After studying traditional Japanese styles of painting known as Nihonga and experimenting with abstraction, Kusama relocated to New York, where she lived from 1958 to 1973, moving in avant-garde circles with Andy Warhol, Allan Kaprow and others.

There is an obsessive quality to Kusama’s output. She first developed her visual language of polka dots and repetitive patterning as a child, in part to cope with mental health problems. Since returning to Japan in 1973, Kusama has lived by choice in a mental health facility, where she continues to work as an artist and author. And yet she is an art star now, and her celebrity status creates a mirror of its own: The public flocks to her installations and posts their photographs all over the Internet, refracting and reflecting the works ad infinitum.

Entering the Broad’s installation, I am swallowed by an unending universe of color-changing lights. Kusama’s work is many things at once: a physical space and an existential question, an expansive universe and a deep abyss, a visual delight and a disarming journey. Faced with these overwhelming notions, I do the logical thing: I take a selfie.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Best Places in L.A. for Museum Selfies

“Urban Light” at LACMA: Finding the perfect angle amid Chris Burden’s much-photographed “Urban Light” at LACMA is practically a rite of passage for Angelenos.

Central Garden at the Getty Center: Robert Irwin’s Central Garden at the Getty Center is replete with photogenic vistas, but the floating maze of azaleas is the clutch selfie backdrop.

“Tulips” at The Broad: At the Broad, the mirror-polished stainless steel of Jeff Koons’ “Tulips” begs for a quick reflected self-portrait.

Stacey Ravel Abarbanel writes about art, culture, and history and is a consultant for museums and other cultural organizations.
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