Tokyo based Yayoi Kusama is known as the “priestess of Polka Dots.” During the 1960’s she was part of New York’s avant-garde scene and became friends with Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keefe. She is now the most popular artist in the world as ranked by museum attendance. Yet every morning this diminutive artist who is in her late eighties walks out the door of the psychiatric institution in Tokyo where she is a voluntary patient and crosses the street to her studio. There she translates “the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and painting.” And for our benefit creates art that helps us understand our place in the universe.
Experiencing Kusama’s “Infinity Room” is humbling. Endless glowing orbs floating silently all around. Some the size of dots, others ping pong balls and still others reflected and magnified by the surrounding mirrors and watery floor. Unsettling. A little scary. Magical. And comforting.
Are we glimpsing the cosmos in its infinite wonder? Or are we astronauts experiencing our beautiful fragile earth from space? As we are embraced by what she describes as “the shadow of illusion” we begin to grasp a philosophy of life shaped by the strength of her vulnerability. She began hallucinating at the age of ten experiencing vivid patterns that materialized, multiplied and engulfed her. Experiences she later described as “self-obliteration” and which became central to her artistic process.
“Far beyond the reaches of the universe, infinity is trying to communicate with us,” she observes. We are neither greater nor lesser. Furthermore polka-dots never remain alone, they naturally move towards each other and are “a way to infinity.”
And a wonderful way to envision movements for social transformation.
- I first experienced the Infinity Room at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art located just outside Copenhagen. This is what it looked like.
- Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors will be on display March 3rd to May 27th in Toronto. Good luck getting tickets. Live elsewhere? Check out these locations.