Yayoi Kusama occupies an interesting position in the world of contemporary art; few artists have achieved the level of mainstream celebrity this Japanese artist commands. Of course, some in the art world wonder at that status, especially since Kusama's fame seems tied inextricably to the lines that queue up for her almost infamous Infinity Mirror Rooms.
Images of the work made headlines earlier this year when an unbalanced selfie-taker inside one of Kusama’s rooms slipped and fell at Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum, damaging one of the pricey pieces inside and attracting worldwide news coverage. The damaged piece has since been repaired, and that mirror room is one of the most recent acquisitions by the Dallas Museum of Art. "All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins" will go on view Oct. 1 in Dallas, and we recommend purchasing your tickets now.
Since her first infinity mirror room in 1965, Kusama has created more than 20 of the mirrored spaces designed to involve the spectator. Although Kusama couldn’t have had the iPhone-wielding, selfie-taking masses in mind when she first conceived of the project, her staged self-portraits in her first mirror room, "Phalli’s Field," show that the camera-ready nature of the work did not escape her.
They really are beautiful, kaleidoscopic spaces, works that make sense in the oeuvre of an artist almost as famous for her experience with mental illness as her art. The mirror rooms provide an escape to an impeccably imagined fantasy world, even if only for a minute.
The seemingly universal appeal of the mirror rooms has mostly eclipsed Kusama’s other artistic contributions — an issue curators will hopefully take up once the mirror-room fervor dies down — but Kusama came of age as an artist in the New York City of artistic myth. She moved to the city from Japan in the late 1950s and showed work alongside Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, collaborated with Donald Judd, participated in and staged “Happenings,” and demonstrated against the Vietnam War.
With contemporaries like Eva Hesse, Kusama added a much-needed feminine voice to minimalist and post-minimalist art; work like her "Accumulations" series — sculptural objects such as found furniture that she covered in dozens, sometimes hundreds of small, phallic-like structures — made sense alongside artists exploring the limits of art and perception. Repetition became one of the dominant motifs in Kusama’s work. (She’s become synonymous with the humble polka dot.) The labor-intensive work is a way for her to think amidst the noise.
For Kusama, notions of repetition, especially in overwhelming quantities, also represented a human way of exploring essentially unfathomable concepts such as infinity and the sublime. Kusama as an artist is more than the spectacle of the mirror rooms. The fact that we feel the need to remind audiences of her status by equating her work with that of her male contemporaries is another reminder of how far we still have to go in the re-evaluation of our male-dominated art history.
"All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins" lends itself easily to seasonal marketing, but pumpkins also have a more personal meaning to Kusama — who was raised by seed purveyors and equates the pumpkin, which she has incorporated into a number of works in her career — with her childhood and fertility, other themes that resurface throughout her work.
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The room at the DMA, which is rather small, contains 62 acrylic yellow pumpkins covered in black polka dots. The walls, ceiling and floor are covered with mirrors, allowing the viewer to become one with the work while multiplying the pumpkins seemingly infinitely, an allusion to the individual symbolically becoming one with the infinite.
When the Broad Museum in LA — which is about to host the traveling exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors containing six mirror rooms — put tickets on sale for the exhibition on its website, they sold out in less than a day, with 150,000 people in the online queue in the first five minutes of their availability.
The DMA is also expecting record attendance for the show, so book your tickets now. You’ll be able to reserve a specific time on a specific day (at least until tickets are sold out). Tickets to step into the room are $16 for adults and allow you 45 seconds in the room.
"All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins" is a joint acquisition between the Dallas Museum of Art and art collectors Howard and Cindy Rachofsky, with support from the TWO x TWO for Aids and Art fund. It will be on view through Feb. 25.