Yayoi and her dream land
You’ve seen the photos on Instagram: selfies framed by a bastion of mirrored globes, oblong balloons alight with polka dots, maybe a giant pumpkin whose bulging folds are a garish yellow — Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms have become ubiquitous across the art and social media worlds. In its most recent iteration, “Yayoi Kusama: LOVE IS CALLING” (open through Feb. 7, by advance ticket only), sits in one of the main galleries at the waterfront space of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, accompanied by another show, “Beyond Infinity” (also open through February).
The Infinity Room at the ICA Boston, the largest museum-owned exhibition of its kind in North America, is a dark purple forest of softly whirring tentacle-shaped balloons. To enter the InfinityRoom, you not only need to wait in line inside the gallery, but also in line out the door of the museum itself. Kusama’s reputation truly precedes her, and this new exhibition is no exception. Once in the Infinity Room, viewers have two minutes to experience all that Kusama’s kaleidoscopic space offers. The mirror-padded cube is a quiet save for Kusama’s voice, reciting a poem over a loudspeaker. This poem, spoken in Kusama’s native Japanese, is a love song (lyrics are written on the wall outside of the Room). Her monotone recitation, however, would leave a visitor wondering. The installation begets a near-religious rumination. As viewers explore the forest-like space, Kusama’s projected voice gives guiding clarity in the onslaught of sensory experiences.
Kusama’s Infinity Rooms create an interesting sense of primordial importance in the age of smartphones and social media. They transcend the technology that has awarded them fame. Although the experience of an Infinity Room is undoubtedly influenced by social media — as all the selfie-takers in each Infinity Room remind even the most obtuse of visitors — the work is impossible to capture without a firsthand view. Kusama creates a space that beckons the naivete and vulnerability of childhood. Her physical creations require a childlike sense of exploration, which, coupled with her poetic recitation, leaves viewers charged with emotion long after they exit the space.
In addition to this magnetic room — which I am sure I don’t need to tell you to see, just look at the way these rooms have been deified on social media — I urge you to explore the accompanying exhibition, “Beyond Infinity.” The show is a broad look at the legacy Kusama’s work has left on the contemporary art world. Many contemporary artists who employ a variety of media are on display. Specific highlights include one of Nick Cave’s soundsuits, work by Ellen Gallagher and Kusama’s “Blue Coat” (1965), which is actually on loan from Brandeis’ own Rose Art Museum. So stop scrolling through everyone else’s Infinity Room posts, and go see it for yourself. After all, the favorable lighting just begs for a selfie.
Correction: “Yayoi Kusama: LOVE IS CALLING” 's opening day was corrected from Feb. 27 to Feb. 7.