Find Inspiration: Yayoi Kusama at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I was lucky enough to get 2 ticket to the hottest show in town  – Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It wasn’t easy. I tried to get a second set with no luck at all. Every time they’d release a new block of tickets, I’d be right there at the computer, poised and waiting. The gates would open and I’d immediately be 18,725th in line!

Something in this artist’s work creates that kind of a response.  Toronto is clearly embracing Kusama’s world of repetition, dots and infinity rooms.

This exhibit features 8 infinity rooms, most of which are white boxes with a single door, giving you no sign of what lies within. You wait in line, sometimes for 20 minutes, for a 20-second experience in the room. Here’s Justin and I experiencing Phalli’s Field (1965/2016). All of those polka dots can’t help but make  you smile. This field of soft sculptures is reminiscent of some friendly muppet-like world, which becomes rather odd when you learn that Kusama called this “a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses.”

I first learned of Yayoi Kusama’s work through the In the In Studio Series from the Museum of Modern Art (which, by the way, I can’t recommend highly enough).  In How to Paint like Yayoi Kusama, instructor Corey D’Augustine teaches how to create an infinity net. The process piqued my curiousity and I immediately followed along. It was immersive and engaging. I loved it.

It made it all the more exciting to see several of Kusama’s Infinity Net paintings at the exhibit. This is a closeup of one. It gives you a sense of the effect of the work.

Everything that Yayoi Kusama does seems to be just about to break out of the frame, overgrow the room, defy limitation.  It feels like if you close your eyes, even for an instant, everything will have multiplied by the time you open them again!

During the exhibit, this short film was showing but there were also notes that you could access it online through your phone while waiting – smart strategy! This, combined with the freedom to take pictures, even within the rooms, gave a great sense of freedom and expansion, like the show itself was able to reach far beyond the bounds of the gallery.

When they told us we’d only get 20 seconds in each Infinity Room, it was a bit of a shock.  How could we wait all that time for just a few seconds of experience? Would it be worth it? As we stepped into the glow of Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, I knew immediately the answer was yes. Though the beauty of this room made me want to stay forever, the truth is it takes only an instant for the work to give you all it has.  With a gasp, you are immersed. The experience is immediate and visceral. This brief moment may well be my favourite art experience of all time. I will carry it with me always.

Oh, the whimsy of a room filled with pink, balls, and polka dots! Once again, you just can’t help but smile.

There was virtually no lineup as we walked into Dots Obsession: Love Transformed into Dots, and that gave a wonderful sense of peace and ease, a welcome breath as we moved forward in the exhibit.

What totally different energy exuded from Love Forever (1966/1994). Justin and I stood on opposite sides of a white box and peered in to discover this amazing view! What fun! (Though I was afraid I was going to drop my phone in!)

Justin and I had rather different views of The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013). He felt it was so similar to Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity that he couldn’t help but compare and preferred the former. For me, it was the difference between sparkle and glow, the energy of a quick intake of breath and standing up straighter versus a deep exhale and letting go.

There was only one Infinity Room in which photos were not allowed: All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016). Doesn’t the title itself take you someplace? I asked why no photography and was told it was at the request of the artist.  You can sneak a peek into the room at the AGO’s website.

The sculpture Life (Repetitive Vision) (1998) can at least give you a taste of the golden pumpkin colour that Yayoi Kusama clearly delights in.

In addition to the Infinity Rooms, there were paintings, collage pieces and sculptures by the artist as well as some wonderful photographs of her and her work throughout her career. I was particularly fond of Self-Obliteration by Dots.

And speaking of obliteration, the show concludes with The Obliteration Room (2002-present, installed 2018), which was fascinating. As you enter, your group is given a sheet of round stickers and the instructions to place each of the dots wherever you like.  We were to use them entirely, not a dot was to leave the room. It was hard not to save one for my journal!! But if I had taken it it, then there would be a way that the work would not be complete and I couldn’t do that.

When the exhibit began, this room was entirely white but you can see how much colour has already been added.  Only as you witness pieces that have been strongly covered do you start to understand the title of The Obliteration Room. As each item is covered with dots, it literally begins to disappear from view. It was fascinating to see – or not see.

The Infinity Room exhibit delighted and inspired me. I only wish that I had been able to get more tickets so I could share the experience with more of my loved ones. I couldn’t be happier that I am able to share the journey with you.