I will never forget stumbling upon the infinite.
I walked into a mirrored abyss lit by innumerable lights that brighten, fade, change their colors. I let myself become absorbed in the moment and felt simultaneously whole and void, full and without meaning.
This infinity lives inside the Phoenix Art Museum, in Arizona of all places. In July 2018, my mom and I arrived an hour before the museum closed, buzzing from room to room to milk every minute.
We then found ourselves in Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room, "You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies," alone with our own reflections and the endless glowing lights coming at us from every direction (I had hoped to see the Infinity Rooms exhibit at the Hirshhorn the year before, but never made it).
This semester, the Ackland Art Museum at UNC has put up a smaller-scale Yayoi Kusama exhibit of more than 22 works, from watercolors to mixed media to a shrunken Infinity Mirror cube. Even in Kusama’s more compact pieces, we can imagine the infinite extending out of the finite bounds of the canvas or frame.
From polka dots to infinity rooms, the meditative repetition of Kusama’s patterns pulls us in. The Ackland exhibit emphasizes the importance of such rhythm and repetition in Japanese art, and showcases a tangential selection of other Asian artists who have similarly employed patterns.
An undeniable part of Kusama’s appeal is how her art invokes our vanity. A more cynical reading into the virality of her Infinity Rooms would claim that consumers care little about the art itself, and are instead only interested in broadcasting a cultured image of themselves on social media. But even if this is the motivation for seeking out Kusama’s work, it’s hard not to get swept up by the whimsy and the infinite.
I think all of us are susceptible to narcissism and the intrigue of our own reflections. While a mirrored exhibit may encourage self-absorbed tendencies of the selfie age, the mirrors also multiply your reflection and invite a deeper look within and beyond the self.
Kusama successfully maintains a balance between flattery of our egos and self-obliteration by forcing the viewer to negate the self in the contextual infinite. Are you the center of your own universe? Or are you insignificant in the interminable cosmic expanse?
From now until April 12, you can see the exhibit, Yayoi Kusama: Open the Shape Called Love, at the Ackland for free.
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