The ‘Infinity Rooms’ by Yayoi Kusama have travelled around the world, finally making their way back to Tate Modern. They were first shown in 2012 with an exhibition on a larger scale. Any exhibit of the Infinity Rooms notoriously sells out as soon as tickets go on sale and there’s no wondering why. Kusama’s light installations are some of the most instagrammed, and instagrammable visual feasts in the art world. And amongst an ongoing pandemic, art provides the kind of release and escapism that we could all do with.
There’s no doubt you will have seen Yayoi Kusama’s work in some form. Whether it’s her Dots Obsession series or her famous pumpkin sculptures. If you’re not familiar with Kusama’s story, this exhibition also serves as a brief but succinct introduction to her life and works.
Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929. She was born into a wealthy family and therefore heavily shielded from the horrors of World War II. She made art as a child, having experienced acute hallucinations that would go on to become synonymous with her storytelling. Her passion was heavily discouraged by her parents yet she persevered, travelling to Kyoto to study traditional painting. Eventually, she dropped out of school, and headed to New York seeking, ‘unlimited freedom and a wider world’. In 1960s NYC, Kusama became known as a multi-faceted artist whose work encompassed elements of feminism, surrealism, modernism and pop art, always ahead of the curve. She began to experience further mental health problems and in 1977 admitted herself to hospital in Tokyo where she still lives today, with her studio close by.
“My work is always about overcoming that bad experience. I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieves my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.”
The first room is a timeline of photos throughout her life. It’s a stunning portrayal of how she came to be one of the world’s most intriguing and exceptional artists of our time.
Experiencing Yayoi Kusama
It was an honour to be invited to the press preview, having missed the show so many times before. It’s a rather small exhibition this time round, and Covid regulations meant that it remained a rather intimate experience. The Infinity Rooms pre-pandemic saw people queue for hours, from London to Los Angeles, Berlin, New York and more. Kusama has garnered a cult like attraction for her light installations and their immersive experience.
As I wondered around only my second exhibition this year I really, I mean really, took my time. I read everything twice and looked at every photo in great detail. I experienced the rooms two or three times each. Once with my phone for the review, and then without, for myself.
The Mirrored Rooms
The mirrored room titled ‘Filled with the Brilliance of Life‘ was spectacular. Looking at the dots of light sparkling and changing colours, it was as if I’d entered a new world. I’ve read about the trance like state one feels when viewing Kusama’s work, and the experience was exactly that for me. In a time where distance and travel has felt so limiting, this room was magically infinite.
Undoubtedly, it was one of the best immersive experiences I have been lucky enough to see. Perhaps it was the calm and quiet of the museum, or just the impact Kusama’s art has upon her audience, but it also felt like being transported to the theatre. (Something I have missed incredibly during this pandemic). Each bulb acted as a performer of its own, dancing and lighting up the mirrored stage. To see the lights reflected in the water felt somewhat moon like. (I’ve never been to the moon by the way). In many ways the experience itself is indescribable.
One of the greatest artists of our time
It’s worth noting that some of the photos in the exhibition have never been exhibited before. There’s such a depth to Kusama’s artistry, and it’s unparalleled. She remains one of the most important artists of our time, like David Hockney or Anish Kapoor. At 90 years old, Yayoi Kusama is still going strong. To have the opportunity to see her work within her lifetime is a special experience.
The exhibition is currently sold out until October 2021, however tickets for future dates will be available in September. For more information on Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms at Tate Modern, please click here. The exhibition closes in June 2022.