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Assembling the Infinite

Emily Flamm   | October 23, 2018 | Lifestyle

Yayoi Kusama’s mind-blowing work graces the High Museum of Art at the right time: the depths of winter.

Artist Yayoi Kusama surrounded by her vibrant work

For all its power to challenge and awe, contemporary art doesn’t always trade in playfulness. Yayoi Kusama’s immersive installations do both. To step into one of Kusama’s Infinity Rooms is to be consumed by the beauty of small gestures on loop. Visitors will sink happily into piles of polka-dot foam objects, and while navigating a high-contrast field of soft and glowing pumpkins, their minds will fall quiet.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors celebrates a 65-year career that influenced such visionaries as Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell. Kusama has been an outspoken pacifist, and a deep interest in universality and anti-nationalism underlie her paintings, her videos and those vivid chambers. But she conveys ideas simply—to enter an incandescent room with no apparent edges is to feel boundaries dissolve.

KUSA1018.jpgSome art observers suggest that pumpkins are symbols of Kusama’s alter ego.

“There’s a scale shift that happens,” says Mika Yoshitake, former assistant curator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, from which the exhibit originated before touring the country. “Some have lanterns; some have jewel-like crystal colors. You feel like you’re part of this wide expanse.” Yoshitake explains how the enveloping nature of the work holds appeal for millennials: If images are analog, Kusama’s rooms are virtual reality.

“The joy doesn’t just come out of a happy place,” Yoshitake continues. “It comes out of a dark side too.” During World War II, Kusama worked at a parachute factory in Japan, and she witnessed great tragedy firsthand. After finding success in New York City, Kusama returned to Japan in the 1980s. There, she began building Infinity Rooms on an epic scale. Mortality has never been far from her mind, but Kusama approaches the subject without doom and gloom—her spaces deliver emphatic, boundless pleasure. Nov. 18-Feb. 17, 1280 Peachtree St. NE

KusamaObliterationRoom.jpg“The Obliteration Room"

Visual Playdate
Joy is typically the word used when patrons are asked to describe the decades of work by Yayoi Kusama. Here’s an artistic sample of her career. –Michael McCarthy

1950 Kusama begins covering a range of surfaces—from walls to household objects to nude assistants—with polka dots, and her vibrant style emerges.

1963 Mirror/Infinity Rooms is launched, and Kusama has continued to develop these complex installations ever since.

1966 For the Venice Biennale, Kusama creates “Narcissus Garden,” which she described as a kinetic carpet of mirrored spheres.

1967-69 While living in New York, the artist staged outrageous performance art, including the “Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at the MOMA at the Museum of Modern Art’s Sculpture Garden.

2000-08 The artist’s “I’m Here, but Nothing” showcased a simple living room tableau—tables, chairs and place settings—with walls that are riots of fluorescent polka dots. Kusama’s later work also reveals her adoration of pumpkins—decorated lavishly—which some have suggested represents her alter ego.

KusamaFlower1975.jpgThe delicate “Flower"

“Flower Overcoat"


Photography by: “Flower” by Yayoi Kusama © Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts; Yayoi Kusama portrait by Tomoaki Makino courtesy of yayoi kusama; “The Obliteration Room” by Yayoi Kusama © courtesy of QAGOMA Photography; “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” by Yayoi Kusama © Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts