Yayoi Kusama at the Tate Modern - 'The splendour of becoming one with the dots'

Monday, June 21

By Bel de Gier

The lines are building up outside of the Tate Modern.  

It is 10am and there are already hordes of people, clasping leather jackets and scarves, awaiting the opening of the doors to Yayoi Kusama’s sold out ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibition. The Tate employees, guard-like in their approach, wielding their weapon-like barcode scanners, weave through the crowds, their armour imprinted with the iconic ‘Tate’ logo, the same question now vibrating through the throng: ‘Do you actually have a ticket for Kusama?.’ The unfortunates who hoped for an on-the-day spur of luck are watched, turning away and disappointed, by the smug ticketholders, like the lucky ones filing into first class, vulgarly brandishing speedy boarding passes, staring down those still queueing for economy. It is a prime example of the hedonic treadmill, and I have never been more excited to workout.  

Yayoi Kusama, 92, is one of the most successful female artists alive. Actively fighting against the patriarchy, racism, and a champion for the movement of sexual liberation in 1960s New York, Kusama seems to have lived a life as lasting and powerful as the immersive pieces she creates. Her extensive body of work includes the speckled self-portraits of her youth, clad in bubblegum pink and swinging her flower encrusted parasol, her initial explorations of painting in provincial Japan, and of course her ‘Infinity Mirror’ rooms, a concept which stems from the visual hallucinations she has experienced throughout life. Her latest exhibition, at the Tate Modern until June next year, is a small but impressive artistic and technical feat. It contains two of Kusama’s infinity rooms, ‘Chandelier of Grief’ and ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life’, the latter being one of her largest immersive installations to date, as well as other multimedia compositions from her early years.  

 

‘It is very moving. People wait and then I take them to the entrance, and because you cannot see it before you are at the door, I get to see them... well, especially children...gasp.’ 

The charismatic and mask-wearing Tate employee coos at me, who I saw energetically entertaining other visitors in the queue before I approached him. He answers all of my questions, telling me: 

‘I sometimes go after work, just to be in there for a few minutes’.  

 

As I enter the first room, Kusama’s ‘Chandelier of Grief’, I immediately understand the faces of shock and delight that everyone coming out of the other side wears, darting their eyes back to the next person in line to see what someone looks like before encountering a fragment of eternity. Created to explore the interrelationship of sadness and beauty, and the ability to come into contact with those two forces simultaneously, ‘Chandelier of Grief’ is mesmerising, watching reflections of myself cast into the darkening abyss that is punctuated by a single rotating chandelier in the centre, or as the illusion would have you believe, a million of them outstretched behind and before you. The real star of the show, however, is the second room. Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life’, folds you into a technicolour gulf. The lights, which flicker and even sporadically submerge you into darkness, are aided in ensnaring and disorientating you by the running water on the ground, further reflecting the spots of light. There is such undeniable splendour to be found in becoming one with the polka dots, or as Kusama sees it, becoming one with the universe.

Despite the allowance of two minutes inside the rooms being proportionately generous when compared to the previous thirty second rule that was favoured by past exhibitions of Kusama’s work, I observed a mild discomfort among the visitors, phones at the ready, at not being allowed a little longer in these two corners of the artist's mind. Of course, it is understandably difficult to balance loyalties to the person waiting and the person experiencing, but perhaps a minute more, particularly in the ‘Infinity Mirrored Rooms – Filled with the Brilliance of Life’, would go far in further enveloping you into these extraordinary, but unfortunately fleeting, meetings with perpetuity. 

 

‘Anyone with a ticket is very lucky. Every day we have masses of people outside saying, ‘Any going for Kusama?’, 

I overhear the sleepy teenager at the ticket office grumble to the person in front of me, handing over a pass that is glared at with similar levels of hostility to that of the golden ticket passed to Charlie in the Roald Dahl classic. 

‘Have fun. It is beautiful.’ 

 

Encasing the two rooms are multimedia installations of both Kusama herself and her peers. The information accompanying these photos and footage, detailing the artist’s life, are fascinating, and provide more than just something to look at while waiting in line. The exhibition is sprinkled with fairy dust, and the unexpected pockets of brilliance woven through it in the form of boundary pushing photography, are a wonderful addition to a truly immersive, thoroughly enjoyable, bizarre and overall, captivating trip to the Tate Modern.  

In partnership with Bank of America, with additional support from Uniqlo. Tate Modern, from May 18 for members/June 14 to June 12, 2022. 

 

 

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