(Cover image taken by myself).
Since May 2021, one contemporary art exhibition has dominated the London scene. Written about in multiple newspapers, backgrounding numerous aesthetically pleasing Instagram pics, or appearing on various TikToks, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms at the Tate Modern have made a significant impact on the art scene since they were first installed. In fact, the installation’s dates have been extended over three times, with it now remaining until April 28, 2024. With tickets at £10 or less, and Tate Modern members given free entry, it’s no surprise its popularity continues to flourish. Even if this means you’re fighting for the right ticket amongst a crowd of other eager visitors.
These Mirror Rooms are significant moments in the modern art scene, as Yayoi Kusama herself has had a continuous and important impact on the contemporary art scene. You may have recently seen her in her collaboration with Louis Vuitton, in which she decorated various Vuitton classics in her signature spotty pattern. Specialising in sculpture and installation, alongside various other art mediums like poetry and video art, Kusama’s specialisation in conceptual art has taken significant influence from, and influenced, feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism. Working since the 1950s, Kusama has influenced many of her contemporaries, including Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Being acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan (Yayoi Kusama: Inventing the Singular, 2015), the world’s top-selling female artist (The Japan Times, 2023), and the world’s most successful living artist (Kusama: Infinity, 2018 in The Guardian, 2018), it’s unsurprising that her latest installation has been such a big talking point for many.
(Image from: WWD: Women’s Wear Daily).
Raised in Matsumoto and trained at the Kyoto City University of Arts in nihonga (a traditional Japanese painting style) in 1948, Kusama’s turbulent childhood has often been a source of inspiration for her art, according to the artist. Raised in a mentally and physically abusive household and working in a military factory during World War II at aged 13, Kusama began to experience vivid hallucinations from the age of ten, which she has described as “flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots” (Huffpost, 2017). These hallucinations included what she calls “self-obliteration”, where patterns in fabrics that she stared at came to life, multiplying, and engulfing or expunging her (Films Lie, 2017).
From the 1950s, she began to cover surfaces with polka dots, which has since become her trademark and labelled as “infinity nets”. In 1957, she moved to Seattle and exhibited her work until she eventually moved to New York City the following year. In the early 1960s, Kusama began to create so-called soft sculptures by covering items, like chairs, with white phallic protrusions, which she produced quickly and in bulk. She also began to establish her self-image more closely, having herself routinely photographed with new work and regularly appearing in public wearing her signature bob wigs and colourful, avant-garde fashions (Financial Times, 2012). During this time, Kusama also organised many nudist art performances, such as Kusama ‘Omophile Kompany (kok), a naked painting studio and gay social club. Since 1963, Kusama has continued her series of Mirror/Infinity rooms, such as the ones displayed at the Tate Modern, which are purpose-built rooms lined with mirrored glass containing scores of neon-coloured balls, hanging at various heights above the viewer to create the illusion of a never-ending space.
Kusama’s history of severe hallucinations has led to her choosing to take permanent residence in a Tokyo mental hospital since the mid-1970s, with her studio a short distance away. Rebuilding her art career from scratch after being practically forgotten until the late 1980s and 1990s, Kusama’s revival from retrospectives has allowed her to garner the reputation she deserves after her continuous erasure from her 1960s artist contemporaries (Warhol, for example, debuted an exhibition that took heavy inspiration from a similar Kusama exhibition he had remarked on but had given little credit for his inspiration).
(Image taken myself).
Thus, it is unsurprising that Kusama’s exhibition at the Tate Modern has received much acclaim since it first debuted, particularly after her success with Tate Modern back in her 2012 retrospective. Featuring two of Kusama’s major mirror installations alongside early documentation of her experimental performances and recent sculptural work, there is much to discover once you enter the exhibition. One of the Infinity Rooms, known as Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life, is a room through which visitors pass on a walkway made of mirrored tiles, and was the largest mirror installation she had made up to 2012. Her other Infinity Room, Chandelier of Grief (2016), creates the illusion of a boundless universe of rotating crystal chandeliers and is equally dazzling. Alongside these rooms, the series of photographs on display chart Kusama’s art career, some of which have never been displayed before. It’s a worthwhile exhibition to visit if you're in the London area, and its continuous date extensions and sold-out tickets only attest to its popularity.
From an artist who continues to flourish and create exciting pieces at the age of 94, if given the opportunity, you won’t regret entering the world of Kusama’s mirrors and spots. In the words of the artist herself, “[The mirror room] gives us the sense of the infinite existence of electronic polka-dots. I looked at the piece, and I thought that this is fantastic and I became a fanatic fan of the work” (artnet, 2016).
(Image taken myself).
Tickets can be found at Tate Modern’s official website, by following the link here.
Edited by: Shahnawaz Chodhry
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