For seven decades, Japanese trailblazer Yayoi Kusama has welcomed voyeurs into her private world of polka dots, pumpkins, and mirrored reflections.
This month, three of her monumental works make their West Coast debut in Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Love at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The installations, each of which encourages visitors to physically enter, walk among, and connect with its elements, are SFMOMA’s newest ambassadors to the museum’s ongoing commitment to highly experiential art, says Tanya Zimbardo, assistant curator of media arts who oversaw the organization of Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Love .
The most highly anticipated works in Kusama’s exhibition are two infinity mirror rooms, color drenched immersive spaces that appear to stretch the boundaries of reality. She’s built more than 20 of them since 1965.
“Enter the place of color,” says Kusama in welcome. “All of the people who enter seeking the joy of being alive; let there be eternal harmony among all in the circles and cycles of living; peace and endless love for all.”
Yayoi Kusama, "Dreaming of Earth’s Sphericity, I Would Offer My Love, 2023," installed in the exhibition 'Yayoi Kusama: I Spend Each Day Embracing Flowers,' David Zwirner, New York, May 11—July 21, 2023 ©Yayoi Kusama (Courtesy the artist, Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner)
From the outside, the first room, a brand new work Kusama calls Dreaming of Earth’s Sphericity, I Would Offer My Love , appears to be a simple cube, a block misplaced by a giant toddler. But through its partially concealed door, the room explodes with the kaleidoscopic patterns of transparent acrylic dots that seem to glow from the inside out. Timed entrances give visitors two contemplative minutes among the colorful shapes before the door to reality opens once again.
In Love Is Calling , one of Kusama’s largest infinity rooms to date, she has built a Dr. Seussian forest of polka dotted tentacles that continuously ripple and melt from one pastel color to another. The sound of the artist’s voice reciting an original love poem that explores the themes of life and death, infuses the space with both melancholy and hope.
No Kusama exhibition would be complete without one of the artist’s signature pumpkins, a motif that gave her comfort as a child. “They speak to me of the joy of living,” says the artist. “They are humble and amusing at the same time, and I have and always will celebrate them in my art.”
Yayoi Kusama; courtesy the artist, David Zwirner, Ota Fine Arts, and Victoria Miro; © Yayoi Kusama. (Yusuke Miyazaki)
Polka dots, too, are a reflection of Kusama’s childhood. When she was 10 years old, the artist began experiencing vivid hallucinations that engulfed her in dense fields of dots. Aspiring to Pumpkin’s Love, the Love in My Heart , an undulating 18-by-11-foot bronze gourd is dressed in those signature spots. The pattern represents Earth’s place in the cosmos as one among billions, says Kusama. “Polka dots are a way to infinity.”
The exhibition is in member previews until it opens to the general public on October 14th. And since tickets are already sold out through Halloween, SFMOMA recommends purchasing tickets in advance. A limited number of same-day tickets will be available onsite on a first-come, first-served basis.
Aspiring to Pumpkins is already open to all museumgoers and doesn’t require a timed ticket.
// Yayoi Kusama: Infinite Love will be on display through September 7, 2024. Aspiring to Pumpkins will be on view through August 2025; SFMOMA, 151 3rd St. (SoMa), sfmoma.org
Yayoi Kusama, "Aspiring to Pumpkin’s Love, the Love in My Heart, 2023," installed in the exhibition Yayoi Kusama: 'I Spend Each Day Embracing Flowers,' David Zwirner, New York; Fisher ArtFoundation; © Yayoi Kusama. (Courtesy the artist, Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner)