Museums with Maddie // 4 Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to London for a study abroad program focusing on art in the Past & Present. As a meek, soon-to-be, college sophomore, I was excited to travel and learn, yet terrified of the prospect of being thrust into the realm of art with all of these art kids. In our sub 25 class of people, Maddie and I managed to find each other (probably because we were the youngest of the group) and instantly clicked. For most of the month, we were side by side touring the world’s greatest museums and gawking over the beauty of London. From that moment on, after touring 15+ museums and galleries together, we vowed to be museum buddies for life. Finding someone to go to museums with is oddly difficult, let alone moving through at the same pace. Maddie and I have our timing down to a perfection, and have a great sense of when the other needs more time in a room or wander ahead. When you find someone like this, YOU HOLD ON TO THEM.
Back in March of 2016, I had the opportunity to see Kusama’s infinity room at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. As I remarked in that post, it was easily some of the best 45 seconds of my life. When rumor had it that the infinity rooms were traveling to Seattle, I knew immediately who I had to go with. After going back and forth on availability, we settled upon a random Thursday which we both managed to have off. Of course, this happened to be the FIRST Thursday of the month meaning free admission to the museum and half off of special exhibitions aka it was going to be BUSY.
We were tired of finding a day that could work for both of us, so we bit the bullet and prepared ourselves for the crowds. Hopping in line at 9:30 am, the line for the Seattle Art Museum (which takes up about half a city block) wrapped around the block. After waiting for in line for an hour, with about 30 or 45 minutes until we anticipated making it to the ticket counter, one of the SAM employees approached us about a membership promotion they were running for that day only. I seized this which got us out of the general admission line and into the membership line. It was a win-win: less waiting today and admission for me any time I want for a whole year. We finally made it to the ticket counter and received our scheduled tickets. With about an hour and half to kill, we zoomed up a few blocks to Pike Place Market to check out indi chocolate’s new digs as well as grab a sandwich at Three Girls Bakery to munch on before our minds were obliterated by Kusama.
Timed tickets are key!! We arrived at our allotted time and were ushered into the exhibition which was a very simple layout consisting of white box rooms scattered throughout the space and lines of people snaking their way to the entrance of those rooms. First up were a few of Kusama’s sculptures and paintings featuring vibrant colors and patterns coupled with organic shapes. Her use of repetition, especially dots, evoke a comparison to traditional Australian Aboriginal style. The paintings, which hung on the walls side by side consumed the viewer in a euphoria of color.
Kusama is easily one of the most recognizable and famous artists of our generation - popularized by social media (for better or worse). As a young girl, she defied her parent’s wishes to pursue art. Her breadth spans over abstract expressionism, pop-art, and minimalism. Fun fact: one of her first shows was actually in Seattle! She eventually made her way to New York to further her career before returning to Japan due to her health. Through art, she was able to cope with her mental illness and create a reality of infinite possibility. Kusama is 88 years old, rocking bold prints and red hair, candid about mental health, and one of the most prominent artist in the world. THAT’S RAD. The power of our interconnected global community has propelled her success with popularization of infinity selfies and poses in obliterated rooms. Droves of people came out to see this magical creation with their own eyes, yet is it only for the pictures? What happens to the art? Unfortunately, sometimes the art becomes secondary. However, next time you go to the gallery, ponder why the artist made their piece; educate yourself about who they are. Take a minute and read the wall text someone toiled over (lol I had to do this for an art history class and IT. IS. HARD. Giving enough information concisely for people to glance over is a bittersweet art in itself) and digest these ideas.
Maddie and I kicked off the infinite rooms with Phalli’s Field and were instantly enamored. The room was mirrored on all of the walls and ceilings accompanied with a blueish tint, most likely from the repeating reflections of mirrors. The ground was covered in red-dotted, white, amorphous blobs with a small walkway cutting through them. Motivated from her fear of male genitalia, Kusama confronted her fear by creating a phallic field of sculptures. The varying blobs created a dynamic and stimulating experience of awe for the 30 seconds we enjoyed the room.
We wandered further and further back into the exhibition to find Life (Repetitive Vision) which were tentacle-like, yellow and black dotted sculptures reaching for the ceiling. The tendrils were captivating.
Some of the lines for the rooms were devastatingly long, so we opted to find shorter lines like at Dots Obsession—Love Transformed into Dots. The pink balloons with black dots consumed the whole room evoking novelty and curiosity. The best part was entering into one of these dome balloons to be enveloped in a pink hue and bubbles.
Rounding the corner, we came upon the famous Obliteration Room. Each individual was given a set of stickers with the only requirement to use them before they leave the room. Once a stark white room, accompanied with everyday furniture like a couch or dining room table, it was now alive with vibrant primary colored dots. The forms of the objects were still visible yet the dots formed the illusion of invisibility. Plus, the interactive component allowed us to engage fully with the art and gain introspection into the power of repetition. This was easily one of my favorite rooms.
Circling back around, we patiently waited for All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins. A quick 30 seconds in this room where no pictures were allowed. Kusama wanted to keep one of the rooms sacred and free from photography or phones, forcing the viewer to be encompassed by her favorite objects.
Nearby was Love Forever which was a single mirrored tower with little squares to peek into, revealing a technicolor, psychedelic light display.
Finally, we decided to experience infinity in one of the iconic rooms, Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity. Unsurprisingly, this had the longest line and every time we returned, we found it extending even more. It was here that we made the move of the day and hopped in the singles line. In every room, they allowed up to three people to enter and many museum goers were in pairs or groups of four. In order to shuttle people through the exhibition, they grabbed one person parties and put them with a pair. Instead of waiting 45 minutes for both of us to go in together, we each went in twice in a fifteen minute span. It was a little bit of a bummer not to go into together, but experiencing infinity is in describable and well worth it.
We were thorough and conquered Kusama’s exhibition after two hours of viewing. On the bus ride home we were absolutely tired but satisfied with the incredible show. Big thanks to that dude who was walking around and advertising the promo (hahaha) and Maddie for going with me! If you ever have the opportunity to see her work, I highly recommend seizing it - I stand by my assertion of it being some of the best few seconds of my life.
To learn more, you can visit Artsy’s profile on Yayoi Kusama.