Yayoi Kusama Has Her Own ‘Festival’ at David Zwirner Galleries

One begins to wonder if the hype surrounding Yayoi Kusama is a piece of art in and of itself, a kind of masterful manipulation of the populace based on the modern phenomenon of the selfie. Yes, it’s finally happened: her much-talked-about work has arrived in New York City, where hype has a kind of magical power over everyone and everything. 

The obvious starting point is the inclusion of two new “Infinity Mirror Rooms.” The newest all-mirrored room can enclose five or six people at once (a smart move, based on the around-the-block lines for these shows with the other “Infinity Mirror Rooms” are designed for only one person at a time). The room is full of mirrored orbs that dangle from the ceiling and litter the floor, and in the center is one of her hexagonal peep-hole columns, inside of which is another orb reflected and reflecting to create the signature op-art effect that these immersive environments have become known for.

It’s a little disorienting, this weightless, spaceless expanse of one’s own reflection, these hallways of mirrors reaching in every direction.  This particular room contains no color other than that of the mirrors themselves and the slate gray carpet.  The metallic glass reflections place the viewer in the center of a dizzying kaleidoscope, the repeated pattern being you, and, in this case, your fellow art admirers, each detail of clothing and appearance repeated infinitely around you.  It is an echo chamber much like the mind itself, where the viewer can glimpse deeper, further away versions of themselves – but in the end, it’s still only you.

The next is another peep-hole column that compensates for the lack of color in the first room. Lights blink and change, tinging the reflection of the viewer based on chromatic patterns, sometimes all red, sometimes all blue, sometimes a sprinkling of colors dancing above and below. Is the viewer soaring above a cityscape? or peeking into a kind of command center of desires, the Vegas-like lights firing off impulses to the outer body? Perhaps it is best that we’re only allowed thirty seconds to contemplate such things, any longer and we may become fully hypnotized by the piece’s inherent sorcery.  

The final room is a kind of palate-cleanser, floor, walls, ceiling, and giant sculptures all a flawless white with giant red polka-dots.  Kusama has traded in her signature phalluses for blossoming tulips (something more yonic, for a change?) that camouflage themselves into their whimsical surroundings – or have they made their surroundings resemble them, in the way an artist attempts to project their vision into the physical world?  Either way, the effect is a charming visual playground.

This metaphor extends to her “My Eternal Soul” exhibit in the space right next door, no lines included. While your head is still spinning from the necessary brevity of the “Infinity Mirror Rooms,” here you may linger to your heart’s content – and it would be quite easy to do so. Kusama’s remarkably manic output is here on full display.  Sixty-six paintings tile the walls of the enormous space from floor to ceiling, surrounding large stainless steel flower sculptures in bubbly colors similar to the paintings. There is a childlike exploration here, a diving into the body (or out into space?) to make intimate friends with the mitochondria (or the stars?) – fetching little chaps all.

For the dedicated art adventurer, there is the new David Zwirner space uptown, newly opened and debuted with this very exhibit (fitting), and displaying Kusama’s more formalistic triumphs: her “Infinity Nets” series, which harken back to the 60s (as do the “Infinity Mirror Rooms,” actually). When the art scene was dominated by Abstract Expressionism, Kusama made the bold and necessary choice of embracing something else entirely, delving into a strange and wonderful original method of manipulating space with repetition, creating a minimalist, undulating organic form that taps into that universal quality of her work: the powerful mesmerism of an obsessive artist in full command of the viewer. What the Nets have captured, just as the Rooms have, is us, the viewers. Whether we really want to escape the playful clutches of this legendary art sorceress is, as of yet, to be determined.

Yayoi Kusama‘s “Festival of Life” is at David Zwirner in Chelsea and “Infinity Nets” is at David Zwirner on the Upper East Side, Nov. 2 through Dec. 16.