Reach for infinity at Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition


Photo by Leah Kreisler

Exhibition visitors get to experience two of Kusama’s famous infinity rooms. The second room visitors see is “Infinity Mirrored Room – My Heart is Dancing Into the Universe;” a small space filled with mirrors and paper lanterns that change color, giving the effect that the dots expand and continue forever.

By Leah Kreisler, Online Photo Manager

Patterns can be found in many places throughout daily life: household objects, clothes and even furniture. But imagine seeing those simple, and sometimes crazy, patterns everywhere and at all times. On the ceiling, on the floor and finally, completely surrounding you. Imagine the feeling of nothingness, as one is consumed in an eternity of repetitive patterns. That is a daily reality for 93-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Through her art, Kusama is able to suspend viewers in that same sense of endless time and infinity that she experiences in her own hallucinations.

As a result of years of trauma and abuse by her mother, Yayoi Kusama has been experiencing visual hallucinations since she was a young girl and creating art for just as long. In her visions she sees “flashes of light, auras or dense fields of dots” moving around, engulfing everything in her surroundings and ultimately consuming her, an experience she refers to as “self obliteration.” 

On April 1, 2022, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. debuted “One with Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Museum,” an exhibition with a focused look at the artist’s career. In contrast to the 2017 Kusama exhibit presented by the Hirshorn museum which exhibited many of her artworks, the current exhibition only holds four of her pieces. Two of the works are infinity rooms: rooms filled with mirrors and repetitive patterns that create a kaleidoscopic illusion. The other two works are a self portrait Kusama drew when she was a young girl and a large model of a pumpkin that blends into the similarly designed room of black polka dots on an orange background.

“It’s a small museum, it’s a very small gallery, and we only have four artworks,” Madison Yerzell, a visitors services associate at the Hirshhorn Museum, said. “People seem to think the 2017 exhibit is back and it’s not. The number one thing we hear at the end of the exhibit is ‘that’s it?’ The fact that we even have two infinity rooms is amazing! It’s a miracle!”

Despite the exhibit’s diminutive size, it has become a phenomenon on social media. Instagram feeds are full of infinity room pictures, and Facebook is dominated by exhibit recommendations. Kusama’s mesmerizing and immersive pieces have captured the public’s attention in a new way and have found a home in the vastness of social media. According to Hirshorn staff, Kusama herself has encouraged people to post about her artwork because she considers this act part of the “infinity of space” and in doing so one is part of her artwork and manifesto.

“Normally, you stand and look at art for a few seconds and you move on,” WCHS sophomore Zahava Tulchinsky said. “But in this exhibit, you get mesmerized and amazed, you want to stay forever. Each of her rooms is perfect for selfies and pictures that are Instagram-worthy. Kusama’s art is truly 21st century art.”

With four pieces, viewers are truly able to get an understanding of Kusama’s style and obsessions as well as learn about her life. The exhibit takes each viewer on a journey from the beginning of Kusama’s love of art when she was a little girl to her most recent infinity room as a woman in her 90s.

“In the first room we go through her history and there’s a self portrait from when she was little. Then we’ve got the pumpkin and the two rooms. You go back in time to how she started, when she was young and when lived in the USA during the 1960s. Then, you can see how it all culminated,” Valerie Mize, a visitors services associate at the Hirshorn museum, said. “There’s almost 60 years between those two infinity rooms. She was 36 years old when she made ‘Phalli’s Field’ and then 89 years old when she made ‘My Heart is Dancing Into the Universe’. You can see how different they are, how much they’ve grown.”

Yayoi Kusama is one of the most famous, and interesting, modern artists of our time. Although “Yayoi Kusama: One With Eternity” was meant to close at the end of November, the Hirshhorn Museum announced an extension of the exhibit to the spring of 2023 due to its great popularity. WCHS students and families should take advantage of the museum’s close proximity and visit this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit during the holiday season or in the new year. Visitors can get two free timed-entry next day passes at the Hirshhorn Museum’s website via Etix every day at noon. 

“A lot of art, traditionally, is meant to be beautiful or capturing something beautiful and modern art, in general, is challenging that,” Yertzell said. “These rooms elicit emotions and reactions in everyone, people always light up when they go inside them but they don’t necessarily feel at ease. They say great art makes you feel something, whether that’s positive or negative, and Kusama really embodies that.”