“Forget yourself. Become one with eternity. Become part of your environment.” ~ Yayoi Kusama
If you don’t know who Yayoi Kusama is, you should google her up. She is one of the most celebrated living Avant-garde Japanese female artist of the century. At the age of 88 she is still producing large scale exhibits and living life everyday to the fullest. “I wanted to start a revolution, using art to build the sort of society I myself envisioned” said Kusama, and what a revolution she has created. I have the opportunity to see her exhibition at The Broad Museum, one of my favorite museums in Los Angeles and I previously covered Here and I want to share some of her work as well as my thoughts on them.
The Sold Out exhibition included six kaleidoscopic “Infinity Mirror Rooms,”which are small box-shaped spaces that combine mirrors and lights to stunning effect as well as 60 paintings and sculptures and archived photos documenting Kusama’s life in New York in the 1960s. At first glance, these colorful and seemingly easy to replicate mirror rooms seem tailor-made for the attention thirsty age of social media. However Kusama’s Phalli’s Field, a room filled with stuffed, tentacle-like white sculptures decorated with red polka dots first debuted in 1965, way before Internet was even a thing.
“I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland.” ~ Yayoi Kusama
These rooms are awe-inspiring and often perceived as “mind-bending” because her art is inspired by her own struggle with mental disorder and hallucinations. “My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease”,…”If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.” Stepping into any of her mirrored rooms, I can instantly feel Kusama’s intention to make me ponder on my own insignificance in vast universe she created with lights and illusion.
Unfortunately given the crowd that the exhibit has drawn, everyone is ushered through each room with only 30 second window to reflect, take photos and admire. I felt stressed and pressured because the time simply isn’t enough to really admire the artist’s full work before we are funneled through the next part of the exhibit. But my desire to capture that moment on my smartphone has served me a disservice and disconnected me from that experience and connection I truly wanted. I wanted more time, I wanted to be Alice immersed in Kusama’s mirrored wonderlands and reflect on the mysterious beauty of infinity.
“I am just another dot in the world.” ~ Yayoi Kusama
The grand finale of the exhibit is The Obliteration Room, an all white space that visitors are invited to cover with colored polka dot stickers, transforming it over the course of the exhibition. The white room which serves as the blank canvas, gradually obliterated over time and changing measurably as the dots accumulate as a result of tens of thousands of collaborators. An disarmingly simple composition brilliantly exploits the framework of its presentation. We the viewer of the exhibit become the active participant, the artist, and creator. There was a time-lapse from her prior exhibit in May at the Hirshhorn Museum which documented 750,000 dots being placed in the room and it was quite interesting to see.
My overall impression of the exhibit is my immense admiration for the artist who is able to overcome significant mental disorder and transcend her illness into beautiful works of art. I salute to her intensity and dedication to her work, her ability to create something simple yet infinitive. I am slightly ashamed that I had taken all the time trying to perfect that Instagrammable photo and forgotten to truly just be present, in the moment with her art. If there is a second time around, I would have put my phone away, enjoy every 30 seconds in each of the rooms, appreciating, admiring and reflecting.