January 20, 2024

We Are All Made of Dots

Once you've seen a Yayoi Kusama exhibit somewhere, it's hard to see polka dots and not think of her.

They're her most common artistic motif—both in her paintings and in her "infinity rooms"—but that's not all. It's a repeated pattern that's part of her consciousness—and her subconscious. 

She sees dots everywhere. And she dreams about them, too. (That may or may not be related to the fact that the 96-year-old Japanese artist is institutionalized in a mental facility.)

According to Kusama, "The Earth is a dot, the moon, the sun, the stars are all made of dots. You and me, we are dots." 

Even though I saw the big Kusama exhibit at The Broad several years ago, and have visited the infinity room there a couple of times, I hadn't yet had enough of her and her dots—so while in San Francisco last weekend, I visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) for the "Infinite Love" show (the artist's first-ever solo show in Northern California).

The exhibit consists of two infinity rooms (mirrored immersive environments)—the first, "Dreaming of Earth’s Sphericity, I Would Offer My Love," making its West Coast debut. It's a white box in a white room that you have to bend way down to shuffle into through a semi-circular entrance. (Once the door closes, however, it becomes a half-circle, thanks to the adjacent mirrored wall.)
Before you have the chance to really grasp what you're seeing, the colored dots change their hue...

...making it feel like an entry in the Light and Space movement alongside artists like James Turrell
Some of them are windows, and some aren't—in a dizzying display of flat circles and flat walls that deceive your eyes into thinking it's more multi-dimensional than it really is.

In retrospect, I don't even know how many of those circles were actually full circles or just mirrored twins. 
And when you consider the name of the installation, it makes you wonder whether Kusama is making a statement on flat-Earth theory.

This infinity room drew lines around the block when it debuted at the David Zwirner gallery in NYC in May 2023.  

Even though we had timed tickets, we still had to wait about 40 minutes in a long line just to get into the infinity room—which we had to experience in a small group (not alone, like the one at The Broad) and for only two minutes. 

Maybe it's the limited time that makes art lovers and museum goers like me so desperate to see these infinity rooms, even just to catch a glimpse of them (and snap a selfie). 

Fortunately, there were two infinity rooms that were part of the "Infinite Love" exhibit at SFMOMA—the second being "LOVE IS CALLING" (which debuted at David Zwirner in NYC in 2013, just two years after I'd moved away).

Inflatable forms—lit up, polka-dotted, and color changing—reached out from the mirrored above and below like alien figures or the otherworldly formations of stalactites and stalagmites inside a rainbow cavern.

It's a kaleidoscope of soft sculptures—another repeated motif of Kusama's—that actually feels more intimidating than inviting.

Stand at the correct angle, and your eye will catch the "infinite" aspect of the mirrored room. 

And all the while, the sound system plays a recording of Kusama reciting a love poem in Japanese (whose English title is "Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears"). 

Unfortunately, although love may have called to her, no one answered—not fully, anyway. Her only known romantic relationship—with artist Joseph Cornell—was reportedly sexless. She never married or had children. 

"Infinite Love" is on view at SFMOMA through September 7, 2024.

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