Samantha Perry

An Affinity for Infinity: Artist Kusama’s Polka-Dot Masterpieces

Samantha Perry

When I look up into the sky at night, when the stars are bright and the sky is a deep, dark blue, I wonder what it would feel like to float around in space. Luckily, I might get a chance to experience something pretty close thanks to artist Yayoi Kusama’s traveling exhibition.

Kusama, one of Japan’s most successful modern artists, is famous for her love of polka dots, larger-than-life structures and “infinity rooms.” Her current exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, contains over 60 paintings, sculptures and drawings. However, the most popular pieces in the exhibit are housed in compact white cubes the size of dumpsters, equipped with round-the-clock guards, a velvet rope and a line going out the door.

These white cubes contain Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms. Inside them, the walls, floor and ceiling are covered in mirrors and Kusama’s signature polka-dot touch. The polka dots in these mirrored rooms come in the form of speckled light, which bounces endlessly off the mirror-covered interior. Surrounded by mirrors and these specks of light, viewers feel like they are standing in space. Infinity Mirror Rooms have become so popular that each viewer is only allotted 30 seconds inside!

Kusama has been creating these Infinity Mirror Rooms since 1965. Her first room was simple: a 15-square-foot room with mirrored walls and hundreds of wiggly, red-on-white polka-dotted tubers made of fabric. Since then, her Infinity Mirror Rooms have grown to include more mirrors, more lights and different perspectives. One room, called Love Forever, can be viewed from a small peephole, big enough to fit your head through. Bright reds and yellows reflect off the mirrored walls, and, if you stick your head far enough in, a disembodied face is reflected in infinity as well. Her piece The Souls of a Million Light Years Away includes a small catwalk for the viewer to stand on, like a plank over inky water.

The exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum makes a limited number of free tickets available online every week, which are sold out in hours. Remember, each visitor is allowed only 30 seconds within each room, but according to Kusama and her popularity, 30 seconds surrounded by polka dots might as well be infinity.

Can’t make it to Washington, DC, before the exhibit closes in May? Good news—the exhibit will be traveling to different museums across North America for the next two years. Next up is the Seattle Art Museum this June and The Broad museum in Los Angeles this October. Locations for 2018 and the beginning of 2019 are set for the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Did You Know?
Although primates are thought to be able to recognize their own reflections, only large apes have shown the ability to do so. Many monkeys have a hard time recognizing their reflections because of the significance of eye contact. Most view their reflected image as another hostile monkey.

Photo Credit: Yayoi Kusama Helsinki Art Museum, The Broad

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