Tuesday, January 22, 2019

To Infinity and Back with Yayoi Kusama

I was a bit outraged when I read the fine print on my ticket to see Yayoi Kusama's "Love Is Calling" Infinity Room. Two measly minutes in the room? The timed ticket was for a half hour time slot. Despite the fact I had no idea what the experience would actually be like, my knee jerk reaction was that I was going to be shortchanged. I was wrong.

Since 1965, Kusama has been creating her mirrored infinity rooms. Her earliest installations included soft sculptures of phalluses. Hmm. Even her "Love is Calling" creations reminded me of Cappadocia. (Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about.)

The polka dots are Kusama's real signature, though. She includes them in nearly all her artwork. According to a wall card, Kusama considers both the polka dot and infinity to "signify the relationship between mortals and the unknown expanse of the universe."

Can you spot me in this infinity room?
Kusama has also explained her perception of polka dots by saying, "Dots are symbols of the world, the cosmos. Earth is a dot, the moon the sun, the stars are all made up of dots. You and me, we are dots." Her intention in creating these immersive polka-dotted infinity rooms is to allow viewers to both be part of and subsumed by the environment.

I certainly felt I had become one with her somewhat dizzying world. When you enter the room, the doors are shut so you are wholly immersed. The sculptures change colors as the seconds tick past. The shifting colors give you the sense the sculptures are undulating as you move around them. The mirrors give the room a fun-house feel; you almost lose track of which side is up.

Throughout the viewing, you hear Kusama reciting a poem she wrote entitled Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears. Kusama's recitation is in Japanese, so for me it added to the sense that I'd been dropped into another world. An English translation appears outside the room and begins,

"When the time comes around for people to encounter the end of their life
having put on years, death seems to be quietly approaching
It was not supposed to be my style to be frightened of that, but I am...."

When I exited the room with my nine fellow viewers, my head was spinning -- not necessarily in a good way. Two minutes was plenty. Notwithstanding my lingering headache, I'm glad to have experienced a Kusama Infinity Room. And it was definitely that -- an experience.

To read more about Kusama and why she's become such a star in the artworld, click here.  And for a fascinating article about the history of immersive installations, including an exhibit created more than 200 years ago by Jacques-Louis David, click here.

Kusama's "Love Is Calling" Infinity Room will be on display at the Tampa Museum of Art through February 14. Click here for further information and tickets.


  1. Dear Nanette Crist: I cannot seem to locate an email address for you nor an intuitive way to leave a message on this blog format. I would like to let you know about a development in an earlier story you wrote. Could you drop me a line please? Kind regards.

    1. Hello. My email address is ncrist17@gmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from you. Nanette


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