At Yayoi Kusama show, a long wait to experience infinity

Posted at 8:26 AM, Dec 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-09 08:26:49-05

NEW YORK (AP) — If you want to experience infinity, you're going to have to wait a long time.

On a recent Saturday, the line to see Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's new Infinity Mirror Rooms stretched all the way around a Manhattan city block, the end of the line even meeting up with the beginning at the entrance to David Zwirner Gallery, and the wait as long as six hours.

Some 5,000 people came through that day, the gallery says, the busiest day yet for the exhibit, and yet more proof — if it were needed — of the massive popularity of Kusama, who's been described as the top-selling living female artist. Among the 5,000 was not, however, Alla Kondrateva. The 27-year-old New Yorker took one look at the line and gave up, returning on a chilly weekday a few days later when the wait was much shorter. She was happy she returned.

"She's really quirky," Kondrateva said of the 88-year-old artist. Her work, she said, "is interactive, and it just draws people in — her style is just out there, eccentric."

Like many who have passed through the gallery since the exhibit opened at the beginning of November, Kondrateva had seen Kusama's work on Instagram, where the artist is a presence. Her famous Infinity Mirror Rooms — two new ones are being debuted at the current exhibit, called "Festival of Life" — are perfect for selfies. Hardly anyone leaves without one, or two, or 26. But Kondrateva said she tried to limit the impulse: "I feel like it kind of takes away from the whole experience because you're not experiencing the art, you're spending the whole time on your phone."

And that time isn't very long. After the lengthy wait outside, visitors get one minute — yes, 60 seconds — in the first Infinity Room, called "Let's Survive Forever," a mirror-lined space in which only four to six people can fit amid a slew of shiny mirrored orbs, some hanging from the ceiling, some attached to the floor. In the middle of the room, one peeks into a box that splits images, well, infinitesimally. The room is ideal for selfie-takers; there seems to be no angle from which you cannot see yourself — and your smartphone.

In the second room, "Longing for Eternity," one peers through round holes into a mirrored box, witnessing a light show with constantly changing colors. The view below appears infinite. It's hard to take a selfie, but if you have that live-photo function, your photos will go through two color changes as you view them. You get 30 seconds in that room. (One couple got engaged early this week in an Infinity Room, the gallery says; presumably, they got a bit more time.)

After the Infinity Rooms, you're led — white booties on your feet — into "With All My Love for the Tulips, I Pray Forever," an earlier Kusama work appearing for the first time outside Asia. The entire room is white and covered with Kusama's signature red polka dots, with huge sculptures of tulips (also white with red dots.)

Colleen Murphy, 23, stood recently in the center of the very photogenic room, taking selfies. She, too, said the wait — just under two hours that morning — was worth it. "It's really special to see a lot of her work at once, having the context," said the former art history major who now works in marketing. "Rather than seeing one or two pieces, as you would in a museum."

In another room hang some 66 of the artist's brightly colored paintings from her "My Eternal Soul" series, accompanied by a set of new and shiny floral sculptures. One visitor, Mahera Jeevanjee, a physical therapist from San Antonio, Texas, said she found the paintings fascinating as a onetime science major, because some design patterns "look like the anatomy of a cell."

The Chelsea show closes December 16; a concurrent show of Kusama's "Infinity Nets" paintings at the gallery's Upper East Side location runs until December 22.

In a video message accompanying the show, Kusama — in a bright red wig — says that if her art "can inspire a deep love of humanity and acknowledge the amazingness of who we are, I will be very happy."

"I am determined to continue to grow as an artist who can give hope and power to society," says the artist, who has a history of neurosis and channels hallucinations into her work. "I want to accomplish work that leads to world peace and the empowerment of our collective future. I will continue to fight this battle and I invite you to fight it with me."

Have some extra cash? Except for some paintings on loan, the works are for sale — even the Infinity Mirror Rooms, though the gallery would not give prices on those, nor say how many editions would be available. As for the paintings, they're listed for under $1 million.