Yesterday, I had the privilege of experiencing the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Hirshorn in Washington, D.C.
Knowing next to nothing about Kusama, her artwork, or the nature of the exhibit and what it showcased, we decided to take an adventure. Literally the only thing I knew about the exhibit was that a visitor recently destroyed one of her thin, hollow, plastic polka-dotted pumpkins while taking a selfie. (That’s a whole other topic that I witnessed yesterday which I may decide to discuss as a side note at the end of this blog.)
We left Lancaster for an overnight stay about 30 minutes outside of downtown Washington, D.C. The next morning, the alarm clock went off at 5am and off we went, aiming to reach the Hirshorn at 6am. Through overhearing discussions once we stepped in line (behind 60 other people bundled in blankets and coats in the 55 degree weather), I discovered that only 700 free passes would be given to those in line and they wouldn’t start giving them out until 10am. Thankfully, we packed plenty of books to read, sketchbooks to draw in, Yahtzee, fruit, and water to drink.
All of my assumptions about this exhibit were completely and utterly wrong, guys. Aside from the expectation of bewilderment as a result of staring at endless polkadots, I had literally no idea what I was getting into.
You see, I honestly thought we would be free to enter the so-called “infinity mirror” rooms freely with the freedom to walk out of one and into the other. But Kusama had a different intention entirely. The infinity mirror rooms are enclosed in box-like structures with a door that opens and shuts. Basically, you wait in line with whomever you’ve come to visit the Hirshorn with. When it’s your turn to view one of the five infinity rooms, a staff member opens the door, allows you to enter, and shuts the door behind you for either 20 or 30 seconds. There, you stand in silence and awe looking at the objects inside (lights, glowing pumpkins, pink polka dotted balls). The box is coated in mirrors and gives the feeling that the objects go on forever and ever and ever and ever.
There were several different feelings which popped up for me personally. The first and most apparent was that of voyeurism. We all have gone to art exhibitions and looked at artwork, but have you ever been met with your reflection? In the infinity mirror rooms, you are met with the image of your self as you turn and look into an imaginary abyss of infinite lights. It was almost uncomfortable at times watching myself, jaw open, in awe.
But this caused me to be completely present. The lines—which seemed to take forever with a grumbling tummy—seemed to last forever. A lot of wonderful conversation was had in each line as we waited for those 20 to 30 precious experiential moments. It was truly amazing. It taught patience and presence, and was full of illumination and voyeuristic qualities which only brought it back to feeling present again.
I have never experienced an exhibit quite like Yayoi Kusama’s. The themes that intricately wove themselves throughout the Hirshorn were incredibly relevant in today’s digitally connected—and therefore existentially disconnected—world which we experience everyday through our phones and computers. It was refreshing and revitalizing.
Thank you for reading! I hope local artists can revisit these themes in their artwork so we can all have similar experiences!