I recently was one of the fortunate few to experience Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, an installation by Yayoi Kusama at The Broad. For this dazzling work, which is part of the Broad collection, Kusama has lined the entire room with mirrors and installed flickering LED lights that reflect into infinity. On view through October 2017, the room is accessible to one ticketed viewer at a time, for just 45 seconds. Naturally, the museum’s website prepares people for long lines and the very real possibility of never gaining access.
This rare experience piqued my interest in the Japanese artist, whose long career is as dizzying as her art. Born in Japan in 1929, Kusama started making her signature polka-dot art when she was just a child. She moved to New York in the 1950s and for nearly twenty years was an influential figure known for her paintings, sculptures, films, publications, textiles, anti-war demonstrations, and raucous “happenings,” which featured polka dots and naked bodies, among other things.
After exhausting herself and her financial resources, Kusama returned to Tokyo, where she spent most of the next 40 years residing in a mental hospital. According to a biography provided by The Broad, “Kusama paints what she sees, as a still-life painter would paint a bowl of fruit. From an early age, she was prone to hallucinations due to mental illness, vivid experiences of the world distorted and enhanced by colors and shapes.”
Neither her hallucinations nor her hospitalization prevented the artist from creating. She continued to create increasingly ambitious works, to win awards, and to exhibit her art in galleries, museums, and outdoor installations, though her reputation had diminished significantly since her New York years. In the last decade Kusama has experienced a revival of interest, with a major retrospective at The Tate Modern (London) and The Whitney Museum (New York).
With work that continues to be large, disorienting, kaleidoscopic, and hallucinatory, Yayoi Kusama at age 87 is a force to be reckoned with. In addition to the installation at The Broad, Kusama’s Narcissus Garden is on display through November 30 at The Glass House, Phillip Johnson’s iconic New Canaan, Connecticut, residence. Thirteen hundred floating steel spheres in the meadow, forest, and pond reflect the Pavilion and the surrounding environment. The exhibit celebrates the 110th anniversary of Philip Johnson’s birth and the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Glass House site to the public.
A further indication of Kusama’s credentials is her importance in private collections. An article on “The Modern Medicis” in The Economist 1843 features a Kusama sculpture in a discussion of private museums of contemporary art. Kusama’s artwork is part of the massive collection of Soichiro Fukutake displayed on three private islands off western Japan. More than 225 such museums have opened worldwide since 2000.
Locally, Kusama’s Hymn of Life: Tulips, on Santa Monica Blvd. between Beverly Drive and N. Rodeo Drive, has been part of the Beverly Gardens Park collection since 2007. And back at The Broad, once the current installation closes, the museum will mount a special exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, which will run October 2017-January 2018. It will feature six of Kusama’s infinity rooms as well as large-scale installations and key paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from the early 1950s to the present.