Deemed the “ultimate Instagram exhibit,” Yayoi Kusama’s Festival of Life, which featured two of her coveted Infinity Mirror Rooms, has just come to a close at David Zwirner’s Chelsea gallery. Lines sometimes stretched around an entire city block as viewers waited up to six hours to snag a few photos in the thirty seconds allotted to viewers in each room.
If you didn’t get a chance to see Festival of Life, or just weren’t too keen on spending hours waiting on line in the cold, you might be wondering what makes Kusama’s work so special and if it’s more than just a social media gimmick. 88 years old and still working nonstop, Kusama is known for producing art that is vivid, obsessive, hallucinatory, and interactive. There is never a shortage of sensory stimulation in her works, which the audience experiences rather than sees. It is this immersive experience of utopian sensory overload that draws thousands of viewers, informing us profoundly of life’s abundance and joy.
Aptly titled, her most recent New York exhibition can be described as none other than a celebration of life. Kusama has a unique knack for turning small spaces into expansive sensory environments. In first Infinity Mirror Room, titled “LETS SURVIVE FOREVER,” your reflection is inescapable as you walk among the reflective steel balls suspended from the ceiling and arranged around the floor, each ricocheting images from the reflective surfaces in the room. No two people’s experience of the room is the same—the artist, the work, and the viewer are in inextricable dialogue throughout the space. In the center stands a mirrored column with peepholes revealing yet another “infinity mirror” space inside. This is a similar concept to Kusama’s second Infinity Mirror Room, “LONGING FOR ETERNITY,” which is not a room you can physically enter but a hexagonal enclosed space with three peepholes that reveal a seemingly infinite expanse of flashing, color-changing lights, capturing the human desire for infinite excitement. She also contrasts the idea of physical spaces with the illusion of space, perhaps as a reference to the ways we view walls and borders in general.
In addition to the Infinity Mirror Rooms, Festival of Life featured the sculptural installation “With All My Love For The Tulips, I Pray Forever.” The room contained giant, cartoonish potted tulip sculptures, and every surface is painted white with large red dots of varying sizes. Again, Kusama changes our perception of space by creating the illusion of two-dimensionality in a three-dimensional room.
Last but certainly not least, the exhibition includes 66 paintings from Kusama’s My Eternal Soul series. The large, square, brightly colored, outsider art style paintings line the walls of a huge gallery like huge tiles, each a portal into a unique whimsical world while together forming another immersive environment. The paintings’ spontaneous details, forming intricate patterns and including more or less hidden eyes, faces, and plantlike forms, invite viewers to dive into these whimsical worlds. Their childish yet slightly unsettling mood is complemented by three large, vivid flower sculptures at the center of the room. Kusama’s ability to project around her viewers’ environments that are alien yet markedly human defines her as an artist, remarkable to Instagrammers and art critics alike.