Yayoi Kusama's dazzling exhibition reimagines the Hirshhorn Museum as a fantastic series of immersive spaces.
The Hirshhorn Museum’s new exhibition kicks off the first major North American tour of Yayoi Kusama’s work in nearly two decades. With The Obliteration Room (2002 to present), Kusama allows museumgoers to cover a white space with dot stickers.
Yayoi Kusama debuted the first of her mirror rooms in 1965, decades before the world was ready for them. Her installation art—beyond bizarre when it first surfaced, but massively influential today—is the subject of a survey at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” which opens on February 23, showcases the Japanese artist’s ever-evolving, immersive sculptural practice. It’s the first museum survey to focus specifically on her environments, from Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field (a mirror-clad room, first shown in 1965, that is stuffed with plush, polka-dotted phalluses) to The Obliteration Room (an ongoing project since 2002 in which visitors “obliterate” an all-white dwelling with colorful dot stickers).
Kusama is a forerunner of the artistic practices that have come to define the Hirshhorn’s recent programming—namely, spectacle. Doug Aitken’s “SONG1” (2012), in which the artist projected a 360-degree video onto the façade of the cylindrical museum building, is just one recent piece that owes a debt to Kusama. She and her contemporaries, among them Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann, challenged and expanded the possibilities of art practices in the 1960s. Kusama in particular settled on a practice that emphasized space and physicality. Space, a new emphasis at the museum, has always been at the core of Kusama’s work, although she has not always received credit for it.
“She was a provocateur,” says Mika Yoshitake, associate curator at the Hirshhorn, who assembled the show. “There have been many artists to use mirrors or mirror rooms. It speaks to how as a woman and also as an Asian artist living in New York at the time, it was very tough. Lucas Samaras got pages and pages in Artforum, lots of features about his mirror room contemporaneously, while Kusama got just a few lines mentioned in a very minor art newspaper.”
“Infinity Mirrors” includes six different immersive installations, which will appear as cubes inside the museum. The Hirshhorn will use timed tickets to control traffic flow for an exhibit that is bound to be a fan favorite. Viewers will have less than a minute to enter into works like Fireflies on the Water (2002), a darkened mirror room filled with what seem to be a galaxy’s worth of twinkling lights. That should be enough time for most viewers to snap the perfect ’gram—her work is ubiquitous on social media, no one leaves one of her mirror rooms without snapping a selfie—and for some to be transported somewhere else. “That experience is very much ‘your body is an atom— dispersed,’” Yoshitake says. “You’re part of the physical space, but in a different way, as if you’re part of the cosmological atmosphere.” February 23 to May 14, Independence Ave. at Seventh St. SW, 202-633-4674