To Infinity and Beyond

Decades before Disney’s courageous Buzz Lightyear coined this famous mantra, the artist Yayoi Kusama was developing and refining her own interpretations of infinity and what going to it and beyond might look like. This exploration began in the late 1950s with her with most iconic series of works – Infinity Nets. Canvases, large and small, were covered with repetitive loops of paint that gave the appearance of going on into infinity.

Over the last several years, many articles have been written about Kusama as her stature in the art world has skyrocketed and museum-goers around the world flock in record numbers to experience her captivating works. I found Sarah Boxer’s recent article in The Atlantic about Kusama’s current Infinity Mirrors exhibit to be a wonderful commentary on the artist and this monumental and unique show. Boxer provides a clear and insightful description that ties together Kusama’s half century career.

I particularly enjoyed Boxer’s terrific summary of how Kusama’s work evolved and related to her thinking and philosophy about her own life. For example, understanding the meaning, and ultimately therapeutic benefit, of incorporating phallus-like objects into her work and attaching them to everyday objects provided additional insight into the several large phallus-coated sculptures in our own collection. I found it especially interesting that these phallus-filled works provided the genesis for using mirrors to create the Infinity Rooms when, as Boxer describes Kusama, “after growing weary of sewing thousands of stuffed phalluses, she happened on the brilliant idea of achieving repetition with mirrors.”

Boxer did an admirable job of illustrating how the theme of infinity has pervaded Kusama’s extensive career. Following the creation of her early Infinity Net paintings, a signature body of work that she continues to produce today, she expanded to another signature motif…the polka dot. As Boxer describes, “she discovered that she (like all of us) was “one of the dots among the millions of dots in the universe,” and decided to use them to evoke individual disintegration and cosmic unity. “Polka dots” she has said, “are a way to infinity.”

One of the primary takeaways from Boxer’s article is that contemporary art lovers should absolutely make the effort to experience in person Kusama’s immersive and moving Infinity Mirrors exhibit as it travels around the country. In her view, the show is monumental and one of the great art exhibitions of a generation. Few exhibitions provide the participatory and sensory experience of entering an Infinity Room, much less seven of them. This is a “chance to capture the lonely existential experience of infinity and send it to others in the form of a selfie.” I wholeheartedly echo Boxer’s recommendation to endure the record lines for the opportunity to immerse yourself, albeit briefly, in Kusama’s interpretation of infinity. Make an effort to see the show in Seattle, and if not, use it as an excuse to visit Los Angeles where it travels to the Broad next.

It seems appropriate to apply Buzz Lightyear’s mantra to the title Kusama bestowed on her 2013 mirror room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.