The One Not-to-Miss Happening in Cleveland this Summer

(Besides “Hamilton”)

The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. called it “one of 2017’s essential art experiences.” The exhibit Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors was in D.C. for eleven weeks, during which time the Hirschhorn’s membership rose from 150 to more than 10,000. As the retrospective celebrating the sixty-five-year career of Yayoi Kusama travels to each of the six cities on its two-year tour, it is generating the kind of hype usually reserved only for “Hamilton.”


The Broad Museum in Los Angeles called the Kusama retrospective its most popular exhibit since its inaugural show in 2015. When the Broad made 90,000 tickets available online ahead of the show, the $25 passes sold out in under three hours.


The Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the six museums in North America hosting the survey of Yayoi Kusama’s work. The iconic artist’s work encompasses paintings, vibrant sculptural forms, and, of course, her magical Infinity Mirror Rooms. Her work has a special attraction, perhaps because it has the power to emotionally transport the viewer through simple sensory experience.


The exhibit travels to Cleveland on July 7th and is here until Sept 30th. Tickets are available to members of the museum April 9-13 and to the general public beginning April 16th. Tickets will be $30 for adults and $15 for children 6-17, free for children five and under. Due to the high demand, tickets will be nontransferable and nonrefundable.


Six of the twenty Infinity Mirror Rooms Kusama built beginning in 1965 are included in the touring retrospective. She constructed her closet-sized rooms initially out of simple materials, stuffed cloth polka-dotted figures replicated infinitely in the mirrored walls. Her later rooms, built since 2007 take advantage of LED lights, black glass and video projections, but all of her rooms feature mirrors.


We were fortunate to snag online tickets to the exhibit when it opened at the Hirschhorn in Washington D.C. Our son and his husband were living in Capital Hill last spring so it was the perfect excuse for a visit. A blizzard was descending on Cleveland but those tickets were so hard to come by, we braved the potential hazards and hopped on the highway. I kept the fact that the tour was coming to Cleveland to myself until we were safely waiting in line to go inside the museum. Glad I made a full disclosure at that point because one of the Infinity Room attendants mentioned the fact after asking where we were from. By that time, my husband had caught the Kusamamania and was happy to see the show twice.


The exhibit began with Kusama’s fabric covered soft sculptures in organic groupings. Her paintings, including several from her most recent series My Eternal Soul which have never been shown in the US, and the short films of several of her performance art pieces were interspersed between the Infinity Mirror Rooms to allow the flow of visitors to regroup. Short lines formed to enter each room as the time spent in each was limited to roughly 30 seconds and the number of people who can enter was limited to two to three people. The lines moved steadily and gave visitors an opportunity to process the different immersive experiences. The exhibit is ready-made for sharing on social media, so striking are the images and the sense that this moment of being in Kusama’s creative universe must be shared with others. Standing in the infinite spaces feels lonely and totally connected, simultaneously.


For the final room, Kusama also asks for our participation. Visitors are given a sheet of colored circle stickers and led into the Obliteration Room, completely painted white, including all furniture, floors and walls. We’re asked to place our dots throughout the room, with those of all the previous visitors, to obliterate the whiteness and fill the room with communal color and life.


Yayoi Kusama's work is indistinguishable from her personal narrative. She has struggled with mental illness since a child and uses art as her therapy. She was a very public figure in New York City during the ‘60s, staging politically-charged anti-war performance art. She began making her infinity rooms during this period as well but suffered from a breakdown and moved back to Japan in 1973. In Japan, she continued to paint and create sculpture and dark collages, which are also well represented in the retrospective. In 2016 Kusama created an infinity room for which she is particularly renowned, “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.” The pumpkins are a recurring theme in her work, but these are exceptionally wonderful, reflected infinitely around your ankles.


Although Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors won’t be here until July 7th you’ll want to be certain to get your tickets in April. We are so looking forward to seeing it again and maybe I can find some reason that I have to be in Atlanta next winter so I can see the exhibit at its final stop of the tour at the High Museum - it’s that good.


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