Thursday, 14 July 2016

Yayoi Kusama, Victoria Miro gallery


Undoubtedly I would say this is one of my favourite art exhibitions in recent years. In her autumn years, Yayoi Kusama, from the safety of her hospital and nearby studio, generates art of poignancy and moments you can feel.

The paintings and the pumpkins on their own are gorgeous, but it is in the magic of the three infinity rooms where you experience the real highlight. They are both intimate and eternal, an otherworldly, Alice in wonderland like experience, you climb in through the small door and and you are immediately transported, surrounded by mirrors to accentuate the cascading reflections of her work and your own image, as an awkward, unworthy traveler climbing into her dreams or her fragile heart and seeing something of her essence.

She is world famous, a recognised brand, but her art hasn’t lost any meaning, she works tirelessly, art grounds her, the polka dots that dominate her work are like a ward against her fear of self obliteration through the hallucinations that have plagued her since childhood.

‘One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers. I ran desperately up the stairs. The steps below me began to fall apart and I fell down the stairs straining my ankle.’

The first of the three infinity rooms is “Chandelier of Grief, 2016”, I was a bit stunned to be honest and I need to visit again, as my undoubtedly false memory is telling me the chandelier was slowly rotating, but I know it wasn’t. One thing to take note of if you are visiting their N1 Islington gallery between Old Street and Angel tube stations, is it can get very very busy. Times inside the exhibits is limited, controlled by some poor member of staff who has to check a stop watch to ensure people don’t get too immersed or lost in the dream. And of course to allow a new guest to get a chance to visit.

(all photos – Mel Melis)

Although there is no mandated route, the next mirror room to visit was the magnificent “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016” – anyone who knows Kusama’s work will understand how the pumpkin, in combination with polka dots is such an important motif for her. I would have loved more time in this beautiful place.

"Pumpkins have been a great comfort to me since my childhood. They speak to me of the joy of living”

“They are humble and amusing at the same time, and I have and always will celebrate them in my art"

And the third room is outside in the lovely garden of the gallery, the infinity room called “Where the lights in my heart go, 2016” has little perforation holes to allow light in, which shine on the inner black surface to create intricate constellations of stars. In the silence and accompanying darkness you get a brief feel for floating in space, at least until the door is opened to allow the next guest in!

“When I was a child, I used to paint intently. The older I become, and the closer death approaches, the brighter my life gets day by day.”

In summary, this is a wonderful exhibition. If you want to witness for yourself the leftfield, sensitive and beautiful works of one of the world’s greatest living artists, then please visit. You’ll thank me. But mostly, you’ll thank her when you step into her magical infinity rooms.

It’s at the Victoria Miro at both of their gallery locations.