Guided by her unique vision and unparalleled creativity, critically acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama has been breaking new ground for more than six decades. In 1993, she became the first woman to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale and Time magazine named her one of the world’s most influential people.
Born in 1929, Kusama grew up near her family’s plant nursery in Matsumoto, Japan. At nineteen, following World War II, she went to Kyoto to study the traditional Japanese style of painting known as Nihonga. During this time, she began experimenting with abstraction, but it was not until she arrived in the United States, in 1957, that her career took off.
Living in New York from 1958 to 1973, Kusama moved in avant-garde circles with such figures as Andy Warhol and Allan Kaprow while honing her signature dot and net motifs, developing soft sculpture, creating installation-based works, and staging Happenings (performance-based events).
She first used mirrors as a multireflective device in Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field, 1965, transforming the intense repetition that marked some of her earlier works into an immersive experience.
Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 but has continued to develop her mirrored installations, and over the years, she has attained cult status, not only as an artist, but as a novelist.
Kusama’s works on paper first garnered attention in the United States in 1957, when she was the subject of a solo exhibition at Zoë Dusanne Gallery in Seattle. Produced on a small scale in rapid succession while the artist was still living in her hometown of Matsumoto, these drawings consist of abstract forms that evoke orbs, eggs, amoebae, and columns.
In Infinity, black watery dots hover in a dense mass reminiscent of cells in a petri dish. In other works, such as Flower QQ2, the dots may suggest a red light emerging from a distant haze.
Hidden Flames, The Island in the Sea No. 1, Inward Vision No. 4, and Long Island employ decalcomania, a Surrealist technique of blotting the surface of a sheet of paper with wet gouache paint and pressing another sheet against it to spread the pigment around. These early drawings are intimate, organic microcosms that the artist later expanded on in her Infinity Mirror Rooms.
Infinity Mirror Rooms
Yayoi Kusama had a breakthrough in 1965 when she produced Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field. Using mirrors, she transformed the intense repetition of her earlier paintings and works on paper into a perceptual experience.
Over the course of her career, the artist has produced more than twenty distinct Infinity Mirror Rooms, and the Hirshhorn’s exhibition—the first to focus on this pioneering body of work—is presenting six of them, the most ever shown together.
Ranging from peep-show-like chambers to multimedia installations, each of Kusama’s kaleidoscopic environments offers the chance to step into an illusion of infinite space. The rooms also provide an opportunity to examine the artist’s central themes, such as the celebration of life and its aftermath.
By tracing the development of these iconic installations alongside a selection of her other key artworks, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors aims to reveal the significance of the Infinity MIrror Rooms amidst today’s renewed interest in experiential practices and virtual spaces.
Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli's Field 1965/2016
Stuffed Cotton, Board, and Mirrors
Kusama spent much of her time between 1962 and 1964 sewing thousands of stuffed fabric tubers and grafting them to furniture and found objects to create her Accumulation sculptures.
She exhibited the works together in an attempt to create hallucinatory scenes of phallic surfaces but found the labor involved in making them physically and mentally taxing. In response to the labor intensity of this work, she started to utilize mirrors to achieve similar repetition.
Infinity Mirror Room— Phalli’ s Field was perhaps the most important breakthrough for Kusama during this immensely fruitful period. The reflective surfaces allowed her vision to transcend the physical limitations of her own productivity.
Furthermore, the mirrors created a participatory experience by casting the visitor as the subject of the work, a feature that the artist demonstrated through a provocative series of self-portraits in which she used her body to activate the space. This work first appeared in the exhibition Floor Show, held at Castellane Gallery, in New York, in 1965.