The idea of infinity used to scare me. The idea that things just keep going—without stopping and without meaning—brought out a little bit of nihilism in me. Then I saw the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Her aptly named “Infinity Rooms” moved me to wonder and joy.
Yayoi fills a mirror-walled room with some kind of sculpture (whether it is her iconic yellow and black polka-dotted pumpkin, or sometimes just strings of lights). Visitors enter a room; then the door is closed, giving those inside about a minute or so to take in the vista as her sculptures and their bodies are continuously repeated in the mirrored walls of the room.
Now age 94, Yayoi has lived to see her work embraced all around the world (including in scattered locations across the USA). My own first experience of her work was in 2018 at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory—an immersive art museum—which has two Infinity Rooms in its permanent collection. One had multi-colored dots scattered across a dark mirrored room; the other had white mannequins on a white floor covered in giant red dots. I thought I might feel overwhelmed by the endless repetitions, but the effect was exhilarating.
Several weeks later, my husband Scott and I drove out to the Cleveland Museum of Art to see the exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors that had been traveling across the USA to sold out crowds. This exhibition held seven Infinity Rooms; one you peered into and six you could walk into. Additional paintings, sculptures, and other works were on display to present the full picture of Yayoi’s artistic genius.
…I felt like I was communing with the universe…
To walk into her Infinity Rooms, aglow with softly changing lights, or pink inflatable spheres with black dots on them, felt like I was communing with the universe. Instead of being a lowly speck in the midst of nothingness, I was here among bright lights and colors, lucky to experience creation, even if it was only for a moment!
Chicago (where I live) got its first Infinity Room in 2018, thanks to the newly opened Wndr Museum Chicago (which describes itself as “a collective of thinkers, artists, poets, and designers bringing together art and technology”). In addition to several permanent installations, Wndr also has artists create immersive pieces that change over time. (In 2019, they called the different exhibitions “chapters,” but I see no sign of that language used anymore on their website.)
When we made our first trip to the Wndr Museum Chicago in 2018, we got to experience Yayoi’s “Let’s Survive Forever,” an Infinity Room with silver reflective spheres. Marred by a column in the middle, I admit it wasn’t my favorite. Plus, it lost the vibrant colors that I associated with the two other Infinity Rooms—in Cleveland and Pittsburgh—as well as the rest of Yayoi’s work. (The “Let’s Survive Forever” Infinity Room is now on it’s way to the WNDR Boston which is schedule to open later this summer.)
Earth, moon, sun and human beings all represent dots; a single particle among billions.
In mid-May 2023, Wndr Museum Chicago opened a new Infinity Room called “Dots Obsession,” featuring Yayoi’s quintessential yellow spheres with black polka dots. Made in 2008, this is the installation’s USA debut. With respect to her obsession with dots (a constant throughout her work in installations, sculptures, and paintings), Yayoi said in the WNDR museum press release: “Since my childhood, I have always made works with polka dots. Earth, moon, sun and human beings all represent dots; a single particle among billions.”
Visitors get one minute in the room at the request of Yayoi who wants visitors to feel the limitations of infinity. But the experience is not limited to the room itself; giant yellow spheres covered in dots hang above the room, like giant lanterns or celestial bodies. Standing in the room feels transcendent; you are one with the universe, even if you are only a tiny dot, and “Dots Obsession” is a welcome addition to Chicago.
Other pieces in this installment of Wndr Museum Chicago bring forth the light and color connection so evident in Yayoi’s piece. For instance, one permanent piece, thanks to a collaboration with WNDR Studios x BrightLogic is called “WNDR Light Floor,” where visitors walk across an LED paneled floor that makes colorful patterns.
I’m delighted to have such a wonderful example of Yayoi’s work here in Chicago at the Wndr Museum. I do hope we’ll also get one of her many exhibitions that have been popping up in museums, galleries, and even Louis Vuitton stores around the world.
I encourage you to go feel infinity for yourself, and open yourself up to it!
© Elisa Shoenberger (8/9/23) Special for FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Allison Green’s post on Kusama’s outdoor installation “Cosmic Nature” at the New York Botanical Gardens.
See more photos of “Dots Obsession” at Chicago’s Wndr Museum.
See more Kusama at Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory.
See more Kusama at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Elisa Shoenberger at the Wndr Museum Chicago.
Bottom Photo: Elisa Shoenberger with her husband Scott at the Wndr Museum Chicago.
Photos by Elisa and Scott used with their permission. All Rights Reserved.