Metro, Featured Column

An Everyday Encounter With Kusama’s Infinity

Buried within the second floor of the Museum of Fine Art’s contemporary wing is a giant mirrored cube. The structure, Josiah McElheny’s “Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism,” is just one of those objects that seems to have a gravitational pull all its own, probably because its gleaming chrome sides make it look like something out of a science fiction novel, or maybe even some strange messenger from the future.

As you approach the cube, seeing a slightly distorted version of yourself reflected back by the mirrored sides, the rectangular window on each wall will stand out from the glassy perfection of the wall. Located at about eye level, each window offers you a glimpse of the cube’s interior, a space filled with yet more mirrors. But inside the cube, the mirrors work with a collection of neatly organized chrome vases to create an infinite world of endlessly repeating vases. You—or whatever part of your face fits in the narrow frame of the window—also hover there amongst the vases, and so you become a transient inhabitant of a strange world where everything is chrome, and your only company is an infinite army of vases.

And oddly, McElherney’s very specific cube was the first thing I thought about when my mom and I made our way to the Yayio Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, an exhibit briefly being housed in Washington, D.C’s Hirshhorn Museum. The exhibit focused on the well-known work of Kusama, a Japanese artist who skyrocketed to fame in the ’60s and ’70s and has stayed there ever since. Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms are amongst her most recognizable innovations, and this exhibit featured six rooms in just one exhibit.

In these Infinity Rooms, the viewer steps inside a white box—large enough to be an actual room, but still small enough to make the claustrophobic among us nervous just looking at it. But once the door swings shut behind the viewer, they find themselves immersed in a mesmerizing never-ending world, like if you stepped inside McElherney’s cube and covered the windows with more mirrors. But instead of chrome vases, these Infinity Rooms are filled with objects like softly glowing pumpkins, dangling lantern, multicolored fairy lights, or small white forms covered in bright red dots.

Each infinty room is surreal in a completely unique way. Some of the rooms, like the pumpkins or the red dots, are more whimsical, while the others, particularly the dark rooms with the dangling lights, are entrancing. You feel like you’re just floating in a sea of light and color, and it’s probably the closest experience you will ever have to flying through space.

The rooms are a complete escape, each one a rare otherworldly experience, and so you might feel the urge to stay in one of the rooms forever and forgo the harsh, noisy world outside entirely. Expect you can’t. You only get 20 seconds in each room.

You see, this exhibit happens to be unbelievably popular, as Kusama is somewhat of a pop-culture phenomenon, and these rooms happen to be extremely photogenic—a very appealing quality in the Instagram age.

Getting tickets to see exhibit was a feat in and of itself, but I assumed that once we had the tickets the exhibit would be like any other: a leisurely stroll through art-filled rooms. I did not anticipate the incredibly long lines that visitors must wait in to see each room, and the frantic feeling that accompanies any attempt to avoid these lines.

There was, however, no avoiding any of the lines, and so my mom and I gamely filed into the back of the first line, watching people quickly ushered in and out of the rooms as gallery attendees with a stopwatch in hand kept watch outside once each door closed. We watched people mentally prepare themselves (and their cameras) for their short moment in the room. My mom noted that instead of infinity rooms, the exhibit should be renamed ‘infinity lines,’ an observation that I not only found hysterical by our third line, but also more to the point. The rooms were amazing, but the true masterpiece was the throng of people all waiting in line. Many were dressed to the nines, a refreshing sight in the modern world, and nobody screamed or shoved or pushed or cried. We all waited patiently, quietly chatting and committed to the fact that the 120 seconds that we would get to spend inside the six rooms was worth over two hours of waiting in line.

So you can experience the feeling of infinity by peering into a mirrored cube, or by stepping into a glorious room, but you also experience this endless moment whenever you find yourself waiting for something.

And in a moment of my life where I feel like there are never enough hours in a day, and where life just blurs by, I find this accessibility of infinity just shocking.

Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor

March 15, 2017