Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors
Art Gallery of Ontario
March 3 – May 27, 2018
Scattered across all of our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms are no doubt a feast to our senses. While most may know her for these other-worldly rooms, I had always known her to be the artist behind Pumpkin (April 20, 2017 – March 21, 2018), the polka-dotted pumpkins that were hung from the second floor ceiling as the opening installation for the Ginza Six shopping destination in Tokyo, Japan. Very unique in nature, and unknown to me at the time, I later found out the reoccurring pumpkin theme in her work is more a representation of an entity that had kept her at bay during her childhood, than anything else.
My first encounter with Yayoi Kusama. Pumpkin, at Ginza Six in Tokyo, Japan.
As we learn more about Kusama, we realize there is so much more to her than what we see on the surface: fun-filled brightly coloured works of art. On the contrary, many of her pieces have a deeper connection to her younger years where she began having hallucinations, and produced a fear for the male body witnessing her father’s womanizing behaviours.
The Art Gallery of Ontario logo dressed up in Yayoi Kusama fashion.
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, at the Art Gallery of Ontario is the only Canadian stop for this exhibit, and features six kaleidoscopic rooms (filled with mirrors to mimic a never-ending space) in addition to an exhibition of her paintings, sculptures, drawings, and more, representing 70 years of her work. According to the AGO, it’s an exhibit like none other they have ever presented before.
After experiencing the exhibit myself, I’ve noted down a few pointers at the end of this post in hopes of helping you when you experience this exhibit for yourself. And for those of you who are wondering, YES, I highly recommend you go, if you’re able to grab a ticket.
This exhibit is unique in that you only get 20-25 seconds inside the Infinity Mirror Rooms. Because of this, I highly encourage attendees to forego concentrating on taking pictures inside and actually enjoy the exhibit with their own eyes. A simple selfie here or there is fine, but just don’t make it a selfie exhibition tour. Even though I write this, I know there will be those that really want photos, so I’ve gone ahead and written my camera settings down under each photo—perhaps this will help to eliminate the need to fiddle with your cameras inside. This is for guidance only though, since all cameras are different. See my notes at the end of this post.
Entering the exhibit from the main floor, we are confronted with this grand sign below. It’s a good taste of what’s to come.
You’ll line up in a bright and airy room only to have to take the elevator up to the actual exhibition floor. The entire exhibit spans two floors, which is a good thing to spread the crowd.
Depending on which way you go from the elevator, this photographic tour may be backward for you. In my case, I simply went clockwise from the entrance.
The elevators are located around the left here, and the first Infinity Mirror Room is to the right of this wall.
The first wall explaining the exhibit.
Phalli’s Field, 1965
This Infinity Mirror Room consists of thousands of stuffed cotton creations. These serve as a symbol of her fear of the male body, which developed from her childhood years as she witnessed her father’s womanizing behaviours. Standing in the middle of the room almost felt like I was standing out into a bright open field full of interesting objects jutting from the ground. In no way did I ever think these creations were what they were intended to be.
14mm, 1/100 sec., f/2.8, ISO 400
If you have the opportunity, try crouching down or standing tall. You’ll get different vantage points that may be more interesting than just shooting straight on.
14mm, 1/100 sec., f/2.8, ISO 400
And you can experiment by taking close-up photos and wider shots as well…if you have the time.
14mm, 1/200 sec., f/2.8, ISO 800
The Infinity Mirror Rooms may look large from the inside, but they are in fact quite small when you look at them from the outside.
The Phalli’s Field Infinity Mirror Room.
In between rooms, you’ll encounter some striking paintings and sculptures. This one in particular caught my eye because of its colour and texture.
Another piece that is quite striking.
Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009
This next Infinity Mirror Room transports you into a space filled with flickering golden lanterns that seem to defy gravity. These lanterns are symbolic of those in a Japanese ceremony that sees lanterns drifting away down a river, guiding spirits back to their resting place.
As you enter this room the lanterns quickly turn off. You’re left standing in darkness letting you contemplate life. But only for a brief moment. Gradually, the lanterns turn on, flickering rhythmically until you are surrounded by the magnificent orange glow, minus the warmth.
No tripods are allowed, so I tried something different to contrast the lanterns on top. 14mm, 2.0 sec., f/9.0, ISO 1000
Of course, a shot looking straight is always nice too.
The brightness will change depending on the glow of the lanterns. 14mm, 1/25 sec., f/4.5, ISO 1600
Take a look at this intriguing artwork too, right after the Infinity Mirror Room.
Continuing on, we arrive at the pink room, which is more interactive than the first two we entered.
Dots Obsession—Love Transformed into Dots, 2007
This room allows you to walk within it and experience infinity in an interactive way, peering inside a balloon and being enveloped by them. This exhibit allows you to admire the beauty of these dots in a more personable level as you’re able to spend a little more time here.
14mm, 1/50 sec., f/2.8, ISO 1600
Walking through this room, you’ll get a chance to walk into one of these pink balloons, which in turn is filled with even more pink balloons.
23mm, 1/50 sec., f/2.8, ISO 800
You can never escape being pictured in any of these Infinity Mirror Rooms.
14mm, 1/25 sec., f/3.2, ISO 1600
I’m hiding behind a balloon!
14mm, 1/50 sec., f/6.3, ISO 1600
This particular Infinity Mirror Room is big enough to fit up to four people. It could be because there was no line to get in here that they didn’t time my entry, but I found more people doing selfies here than anywhere else. It’s certainly bright (and pink) enough for it.
14mm, 1/50 sec., f/2.8, ISO 800
The next stop in this pink room is the balloon that you peer into.
24mm, 1/50 sec., f/2.8, ISO 800
My favourite part is the approach and transition when you peer into the balloon from the hole on the left. From a room filled with giant hanging balloons your view is instantly transformed into something so surreal. It was quite the experience for me (and one you can experience through my Instagram Stories Highlights). You may be too busy trying to maneuver your iPhone into or around this tiny hole, but when you do, don’t forget to appreciate this one by actually peering in yourself and admiring the beauty within it.
70mm, 1/200 sec., f/3.2, ISO 400
You can get so close to these balls that it actually feels like you’re in the room yourself.
70mm, 1/80 sec., f/6.3, ISO 200
Trying to get that shot. While a wide angle is nice, this particular balloon will benefit from a much tighter focal length. A 50mm may work wonders by allowing you to get that much closer to what’s inside.
22mm, 1/25 sec., f/6.3, ISO 1600
At 24mm, you can’t help but get the outside of this hole in your frame.
24mm, 1/160 sec., f/6.3, ISO 800
Our next stop, directly at the exit of the pink room, is Love Forever. This Infinity Mirror Room may look small, but it sure packs a punch. There is another opening on the other side of this Infinity Mirror Room.
14mm, 1/40 sec., f/3.2, ISO 800
Love Forever, 1966/1994
A hexagonal room with two windows, allows yourself and another to be seen within the infinity room. Do this with your partner to see the expression on their face as you both peer into this light show. The hexagonal shape of the light is sort of Tron-esque and its full effect isn’t realized until your peripheral vision also includes the lights in the Infinity Mirror Room. Admire yourself in the mirror from the outside, then peer through the opening (without your phone!) and look around to get the full effect.
14mm, 1/60 sec., f/4.0, ISO 400
These lights change so fast, it’s almost a surprise to see which colour you got when you pressed the shutter button.
14mm, 1/60 sec., f/4.0, ISO 400
And spotting someone walking by the other hole, I grabbed this image.
20mm, 1/100 sec., f/7.1, ISO 800
Go around the corner and you’ll see this exhibit again.
14mm, 1/60 sec., f/6.3, ISO 800
At this point you’ve made a full circle of the first floor of the exhibit. You can make your way up the stairs to get to the second floor of Infinity Mirrors. One of the first things you’ll see on the second floor of the exhibit is this hallway. This is where a running video of an interview with Kusama is playing. You can sit on the couch and enjoy the show, which is in Japanese with English subtitles.
You can watch the interview with Kusama here.
The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013
Created with hundreds of LEDs hanging and pulsating, this Infinity Mirror Room transports you to an other-worldly experience. When the door closes behind you, you’re left in a magical space with colourful lights all over. While you may be busy trying to get as many selfies as you can in here, admire this for as long as you can to get its full effect.
14mm, 1/60 sec., f/2.8, ISO 1600
I’m always looking out for something different, so again, I decided to prop my camera down below and see the view from there. I was interested in capturing the organized pattern of the viewing platform as it contrasted with the chaotic lights above.
Trying to capture the patterns on the viewing platform to contrast with the pattern of the lights above. 14mm, 1/40 sec., f/6.3, ISO 250
The Infinity Mirror Room from the outside.
14mm, 1/30 sec., f/4.5, ISO 1600
This next Infinity Mirror Room I was very much looking forward to, since it played with Kusama’s love for the pumpkin. When I lined up however, I was told no cameras were allowed inside. I will admit it was a little disappointing to hear that, but read below as to why I believe this was done.
All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016
This Infinity Mirror Room carries you away to a room filled with Kusama’s love for the pumpkin—a symbol of her in a place of happiness. Each of these pumpkins in various sizes are made of ceramic. At the request of Kusama herself, and because of the fragile nature of this particular room (so I was told), no cameras are allowed inside. We were able to take some photos from the outside though, giving you a glimpse of what you may expect.
14mm, 1/30 sec., f/4.5, ISO 1600
Perhaps it was this very reason though, that I was able to appreciate the beauty of this room more. Admiring the intricate patterns and shapes of these pumpkins and being transported into another realm was truly special. Could it be this very sensation that Kusama wants everybody to feel? This was, after all, the only Infinity Mirror Room where cameras were forbidden.
Staff explaining to an attendee that no cameras were allowed in the room. 14mm, 1/50 sec., f/3.5, ISO 1600
It does look very pretty inside though.
28mm, 1/60 sec., f/3.5, ISO 800
Heading over to the final area of the exhibit, we encounter a whole collection of her artwork, which are both unique and colourful in nature.
The vibrant colours catch your attention from afar.
I could have stared at this section for a while.
It was a sensory awakening with vibrant colours, patterns, and textures.
It’s interesting to figure out what exactly these sculptures may represent for Kusama.
I love how much orange and yellow Kusama uses in many of her works.
Directly across from these sculptures and paintings, you’ll find the entrance to the final installation of the exhibit.
Entering The Obliteration Room.
The Obliteration Room, 2002 to present
This room is an invitation from Kusama to participate in completing her piece. Beginning as a completely white space void of any colour, the room evolves throughout the duration of the exhibit as participants are encouraged to place the supplied polka-dot stickers wherever they want. As such, this room will never be the same as any others created throughout the touring of this exhibit, and offers a unique and participatory way for people to experience Kusama and her creative thinking.
The all-white room is slowly transformed into what will become a colour-explosion extravaganza once the exhibit ends in May.
Everyone gets one sheet of stickers and are encouraged to interact with the room by sticking them anywhere. You’re welcome to sit down on the chairs and couch as well. It’s a colourful way to end off the Kusama experience.
This would be an interesting dining experience.
You can stick your stickers on anything you can get your hands on in these two rooms.
Use those stickers.
You must use all the stickers within these two rooms, as you are expected to hand over the empty sheet upon exiting.
A polka-dotted bicycle in the second room.
And finally, if you share your images on social media, tag #infiniteKusama and your image just may appear on this screen here.
Images tagged with the hashtag #infiniteKusama appear on this screen.
If you would like a gift from this experience, be sure to visit the gift store, located at the very end of the exhibit.
Gift store for your love for everything Kusama.
They even sell polka-dotted socks!
Things to Note
- Timing: You are allowed only 20-25 seconds in each Infinity Mirror Room. There is someone at the entrance of each room with a timer, who will open the door for you, and close it behind you. When there are 5 seconds left, they will knock on the door and open the door when the 5 seconds is up.
These 20-25 seconds go by really quickly. When you’re admiring the flickering lights or the ever changing colours, that time will be up before you remember to take any photos within it. Technically that’s how it should be. I encourage you to actually enjoy each Infinity Mirror Room without having to worry about your selfie or other photos. You’ll be able to fully appreciate your surroundings and the exhibit this way. Besides, some of these rooms are dark—your iPhone isn’t going to take decent photos in them, so rather than be disappointed with your pictures afterwards, take those 20-25 seconds and soak in the surroundings.
If you’re really keen, I’ve been told you are able to line up at the end of the line again and go back in the room for a second time. This may change though, as they see how busy the exhibit will be once it opens.
- The Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibit spans two floors of the AGO. It’s a large show complete with a video interview of Kusama (in Japanese with English subtitles), photographs, paintings, and sculptures of her earlier work. In other words, there is a large amount of her other work that will inspire you and intrigue you, so don’t forget to check these out as they are equally interesting. The Infinity Mirror Rooms may take centre stage, but it’s well worth you spending some time with everything else that is on display too.
Don’t forget, the supplementary exhibit, Narcissus Garden, which features 1300 stainless steel mirror balls, is on display at the AGO’s Signy-Eaton Gallery from February 24 to April 29, 2018.
- The Infinity Mirror Rooms may look infinite from the inside, but they physically only occupy a small area within the space they are in. I found this to be quite interesting in its own way.
- With all of the above taken into consideration, you can expect to spend a few hours just with this exhibit alone. With an estimated 20min. wait time between each Infinity Mirror Room, that’s already two hours right there. Some rooms like Dots Obsession and The Obliteration Room, you’ll likely spend more than 20-25 seconds in, as they are interactive in nature. If you spend the time to admire her other works, all the walking around may take up another 30min. to an hour. Add that up and that will give you about three hours for just the Yayoi Kusama exhibit alone.
Your entry into this special exhibit also grants you access to the entire art gallery so add on however many more hours you would like to spend in other areas of the AGO.
- Camera settings: It’s hard to say exactly what they may be since all cameras are different. The photos and settings above should give you an idea of what to expect. I’m using a Nikon D800, which has decent low-light capabilities so your camera settings may vary from these accordingly. No tripods or selfie-sticks are allowed within the exhibit.
Keep in mind that the 20-25 seconds goes by really quickly, which is why I don’t recommend you tinkering with your camera settings when inside the room—stay away from taking any photos if you really want to appreciate the room. If you really must though, I hope these settings give you a good start as to how to set your camera.
Brightly lit with no flickering lights.
ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/100 sec., 14mm
Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity
The lights actually turn off at one point in this room. If you get caught in the room when this happens, you’re not going to get any photos for the next 10 sec. or so as the lights slowly light up again. Once they do though, you should be ok.
ISO 1600, f/4.5, 1/25 sec., 14mm
Dots Obsession—Love Transformed into Dots
This area isn’t as dark as the Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity.
ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/50 sec., 14mm
ISO 400, f/3.2, 1/200 sec., 70mm
Flashing lights of various brightness means depending on when you take your photo, your settings may need to change drastically.
At the brightest coloured lights:
ISO 400, f/4.0, 1/60 sec., 14mm
The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away
Very dark room with pulsating lights.
ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/60 sec., 14mm
All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins
No cameras are allowed inside.
The Obliteration Room
Bright white room with little colour (before exhibition opening).
ISO 200, f/8.0, 1/125, 70mm
Were you fortunate enough to get a ticket to the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the AGO? Let me know what you thought of the exhibit by commenting below!