Visiting the Infinity Mirrors by Yayoi Kusama Exhibit at the High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia
If you were in Atlanta in fall of 2018, you know that having a ticket to the Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the High Museum of art felt like having a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. With the exhibit about to close, I wanted to reflect on my experience, and for those of you who were unable to make it, hopefully you can live vicariously through me.
Tickets were coveted, with almost 140,000 tickets selling out within three days. The museum offered 100 walk-up tickets on a first-come, first-served basis, and from the wee hours of the morning, people queued up outside the museum just for the chance to be one of the 100 each day.
About the Exhibit
You have probably seen the images on the gram of people in dark rooms with ethereal orbs floating around them. Those are some of the signature works of one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, Japanese octogenarian Yayoi Kusama.
Yayoi Kusama has pushed the boundaries of art for over six decades. She has used polka dots to meditate on our place in the universe, and adorned furniture with phallic, tentacle shapes to comment on sex.
She has created art that breaks the fourth wall, inviting the general public to not just view her art, but to become a part of it. And everyone vies for an invitation.
Just after tickets went on sale to the general public, I logged on to the High’s website. I can’t remember the exact number of people who were virtually in front of me in line, but I would say it was around 11,000. I left the tab open on my work computer, watching the hours pass by and the numbers tick down until it was finally my turn to purchase. Queue music: cause she got a golden ticket. I wanted to share the experience, and invited my dad and my husband to join.
On an overcast late-November day, we took the elevator from the subterranean parking garage up to the courtyard outside of the High. The sign advertising the walk-up tickets said, “Sold Out.”
We arrived thirty minutes early as suggested, and made our way to where the line began in the High’s lobby for the 1:30 p.m. group. While I was somewhat familiar with the art, I was not at all familiar with how the logistics of the exhibit would go. Would we be walking in a line for two hours with a bunch of strangers from room to room? Would I be able to get out of line? Would I feel trapped?
I could have done further research to ease my anxiety, but I didn’t want to go into the exhibit with any preconceived notions.
Fortunately, my anxieties were quickly allayed. While waiting in line, we were given a map and an informative breakdown of how the exhibit worked by one of the museum’s friendly docents.
We would go up the elevator in small groups to the next level where the exhibit was. Upon exiting the elevator, we would enter into a large gallery, where the first infinity room would be. Besides the infinity rooms, many of Kusama’s paintings and sculptures were on display.
In most of the infinity rooms, no more than three people could go in at once. This meant parties would be broken up and strangers would stand together in awe and darkness.
We would have 20 – 30 seconds per room, and there was no specified order in which you had to see the rooms, with the exception of the final room, the Obliteration Room. The whole exhibit could take anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to two hours to complete, waiting anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to enter each room.
With that guidance, we were ready to rock and roll.
Entering the gallery, we were greeted by Kusama’s bright colors, patterns, and sculptures.
The first room we entered was the Infinity Mirrored Room The Souls of Millions Lightyears Away.
20 – 30 Seconds
20 – 30 seconds does not seem like a long time, and it isn’t, especially to both observe with the blind eye and get a photograph. My photos were kind of haphazardly shot in an effort to document, but also not diminish my experience.
As soon as I stood in The Souls of Millions Lightyears Away, I knew why so many had clamored to experience it. Like most art, words are not enough to accurately convey the experience, and photos do not do it full justice.
Looking all around me, I felt suspended in a universe of wander. Blue and yellow and white lights floated and twinkled. Thinking of the endlessness of infinity often causes me great anxiety, but I found peace staring out into the endless oblivion here.
And then the door to the room opened, a bright white light slicing through the darkness and ushering us out.
20 – 30 seconds of our life is not a long time. But when we step onto the platform of an infinity room, and leave it so quickly, is that not a commentary on our own microscopic place in the timeline of the universe?
I am not a mathematician. I am not an astronomer. So I did a Google search for, “What is Our Lifespan in the Scheme of the Universe?” I found an article there that created a scale model that puts the answer to this question in perspective.
For the sake of this model, the author put the age of the universe at 15 billion years, and compressed those 15 billion years into a calendar year.
So thinking of the entire history of the universe as a single calendar year, the average human’s lifespan lasts for 150 milliseconds of that whole year.
Entering and exiting an infinity room sums up the beauty, wander, and impermanence that construct our quick flicker of existence.
Moving through the exhibit, I began to notice a recurring shape in some of Kusama’s sculptures.
Approaching the pieces, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be seeing what I thought I was seeing.
My husband walked over to me, and asked, “Are those…”
And before he could finish, I said, “Yes, yes, I do think so.”
The next room we entered was Phalli’s Field. From there, our suspicions were confirmed.
In line, there was an informative placard that helped to contextualize the intention and the shapes we saw.
All and All, Just Another Dot on the Wall
The final room of the exhibit is known as The Obliteration Room. Once you pass through this room there is no return.
The Obliteration Room started as a stark white room staged with the standard furniture you would find in an average home.
Upon entering the room, you are given a sheet of multi-sized, multi-colored stickers to put wherever you want in the room. I guess the question with this piece is is this a commentary on creation or destruction? Do all of the dots represent the mark that we leave behind on what was there before us?
This is the first time I have really tried to recall where I put those dots in that room. Now it makes me think, where else have I left an impact on something that I never really thought much about again? Probably more places than I could ever be aware of. It’s amazing what a fun, harmless polka dot could symbolize.
I am so thankful I got to experience this exhibit, and I highly recommend anyone to see any of Kusama’s works if you ever have the opportunity.
Her work is something that I think can appeal to anyone, whether you are an art connoisseur or know nothing of art. From what I learned of her in this exhibit, she appears to be a remarkable person and artist. I appreciate her fearlessness and her unique perspective on life and the ways in which she seeks to bring people in to art, rather than alienate them. I am so glad to see so many people clamoring to support the arts because of this exhibit.
Thank you to the High Museum of Art for facilitating this event in Atlanta, and super kudos to all of the people who put in countless hours in order to coordinate, to install, and to provide us with this experience.