At PAMM and Rubell, Yayoi Kusama goes to infinity and beyond
Yayoi Kusama “Love is Calling” is on view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami through February 2024. It was originally presented in Japan in 2013 and later acquired by the ICA Boston. (Photo courtesy of Ana María Carrano)
“I’ve heard a lot about people talking that the next Pantone colors are like (Kusama’s) lively colors,” says Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) associate curator Jennifer Inacio, referring to the bright and vibrant colors of “Love is Calling.”
Four of Yayoi Kusama’s significant works, including the largest Kusama Infinity Mirror Room, as well as three of her major interactive pieces are on display in Miami, at PAMM and the Rubell Museum. The works provide a fascinating insight into the key themes of the Japanese artist’s vocabulary.
PAMM is showcasing the immersive installation “Love is Calling” (2013), while the Rubell Museum is displaying the Infinity Rooms “Let’s Survive Forever” (2017), “Where the Lights in My Heart Go” (2016), and “Narcissus Garden” (1966), 700 stainless steel spheres that flows 200 feet along the museum’s central gallery.
“People are craving art that allows them to just be and contemplate on life and look at beauty,” says Inacio about Kusama’s work.
Long lines of people wrap around the facade of the museum waiting to enter “Love is Calling.” The installation is constructed like a sealed chamber with two doors, allowing only 6 to 8 people to experience it every two minutes, and requiring visitors to reserve their slot at the museum’s front desk.
The room is covered with mirrors and brightly illuminated tentacles in blue, pink, purple, and yellow with black polka dots. The lights change and the kaleidoscopic effect of the mirrors makes the space multiply into infinite lights, colors, and shadows. The human shape of the viewer dissolves in the space and becomes part of the whole exhibit.
“One day, I was in the installation room by myself, and I almost felt like a little polka dot, lost in this infinite space,” says Inacio about her experience inside the installation. She added that Kusama is “a really iconic artist” who has been working on her ‘Infinity Rooms’ since 1965. “Her work is a testament of how accessible it is to different audiences.”
Inacio says that “Love is Calling” addresses several of the constant themes in Kusama’s work: polka dots, repetition, the idea of infinity, and phallic figures. “It has elements that reference the very first Infinity Room that she did, which are these tentacle-like, phallic plushy objects . . .. So it (shows) how she revisits these elements that are very important in her career.”
PAMM director Franklin Sirmans says that the exhibition fits with the immersive art they have wanted to bring to the institution.
“You come to PAMM and you have the chance to go through the Jesús Rafael Soto work, with kind of rubber bands that allow for people to walk through the work; and a Teresita Fernández sculpture outside; and then, inside with Carlos Cruz-Diez’s installation, you have another example of a real immersive art installation that’s built upon color and the experience of color as a sculpture and as an installation. So with all of these things in mind, we thought it would be ideal to show an artist like Yayoi Kusama in the context of these other artists. And I think it allows you to think about Kusama and about those other artists in a different way,” he says.
Inacio says that throughout the process of the installation, the museum did not have direct contact with the artist, only with her studio.
“She has a really big team and everything had to be approved by her.” This work was initially presented in Japan and at the David Zwirner Gallery in 2013. It was later acquired by the ICA Boston and exhibited from 2019 to 2022 before traveling to PAMM.
Born in 1929, Kusama’s first phallic soft sculptures emerged around 1961 and were exhibited at the Green Gallery in New York the following year. She wrote that her first soft sculptures shaped like penises were created to help overcome her feelings of disgust toward sex. Reproducing these objects repeatedly became a form of self-therapy that she named “Psychosomatic Art,” allowing her to conquer her fear of sex and create “a new self.”
Kusama’s installations in Miami have a theme of repetition and infinity, along with a feeling of vastness. These themes have been present in Kusama’s work since her earliest pieces. When she had her first solo exhibition in New York in 1959, just two years after she moved from Japan to the United States at the age of 28, she showed her first infinity net paintings. She described the monotony produced by the pattern of her work as possessing a “hypnotic serenity” that drew the spirit into a vertigo of nothingness.
Although Kusama’s work received media attention since its introduction, the artist has been gaining exponential attention throughout the last decades, mostly due to her connection with fashion. She began working in fashion as a way to reach more people in the late 1960s with her brand, Kusama Enterprise. But her work became massive after she met Marc Jacobs, the creative director of Louis Vuitton and began collaborating. The first collection was launched in 2012 and since then have prepared “Infinity” campaigns including artists such as George Clooney, Cate Blanchet, and Justin Timberlake.
In the PAMM installation, the artist’s voice recites a poem in Japanese that reflects on love, death, and the meaning of transcendence.
You can find the poem’s English translation on the exhibition wall. Part of it reads:
“When the time comes around for people to encounter the end of their life / Having put on years, death seems to be quietly approaching / It was not supposed to be my style to be frightened of that, but I am (…) Hoping to leave beautiful footprints at the end of my life /I spend each day praying that my wish will be fulfilled / This is my message of love to you”
“There’s a lot of joy in Kusama’s work and we want people to come and experience that,” says Sirmans said. “But beyond that, I think we hope that visitors will gain a deeper appreciation for the breadth of her work and the different themes and motifs that she explores throughout her career. And we also hope that people will come away with a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them.”
WHAT: Yayoi Kusama exhibits in Miami-Dade: “Love is Calling” at PAMM; and Infinity Rooms and Narcissus Garden at Rubell Museum.
WHERE AND WHEN: “Love is Calling” is at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), 1103 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, through Feb. 11, 2024. 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Infinity Rooms and “Narcissus Garden” at Rubell Museum, 1100 NW 23 St., Miami. 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
COST: PAMM: $16, adult, $12, students and seniors. Free Second Saturdays of each month. Timed ticket reservation is required to visit Yayoi Kusama installation at the visitor services desk on day of visit, first-come, first-served basis.
Rubell Museum: $15, adults, $12, seniors. $10 students. Additional $10 charged to access both Kusama Infinity Rooms. Free admission in museum for all program for SNAP EBT Cardholder plus up to 3 family members with ID.