Yayoi Kusama’s Boundless Universe: A Glimpse of Infinity

Exploring the Enchanting Universe of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms

When I attended the opening reception for Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition, I Who Have Arrived In Heaven (2013), at David Zwirner’s gallery, I was granted a unique and rare opportunity. Unlike the bustling crowd, I had the privilege of entering the artist’s Infinity Mirror Room installations without having to wait in line. Stepping into these rooms felt like immersing myself in a mesmerizing universe filled with vibrant lights and endless reflections.

In the following weeks, the buzz around Kusama’s mirror rooms and their captivating allure only grew stronger, resulting in long waiting lines for entrance. The same mirror room that I stumbled upon became a crowd-pleaser during the opening of The Broad in Los Angeles, where it now serves as a permanent attraction. In fact, the popularity of Infinity Mirrored Room—Souls of Millions of Light Years Away has reached such heights that the museum’s website even includes a disclaimer stating that not all visitors will have the chance to experience it firsthand.

A Celebrated Artist Emerges

Yayoi Kusama is undeniably one of the most renowned artists to come out of postwar Japan. It comes as no surprise that she joined forces with Mika Yoshitake, an expert on Japanese contemporary art who has curated blockbuster exhibitions in the past. Yoshitake’s expertise and deep understanding of the Japanese avant-garde, combined with her own personal connection to Kusama, make her a valued collaborator. Both Yoshitake and I had the opportunity to study art-related subjects during our time at UC Berkeley, which further strengthens our connection to Kusama’s work.

Having lived and studied in Berkeley, a city that thrived during the counterculture movement of the 1960s, I can personally attest to the resonance between Kusama’s mirror rooms and the artistic and spiritual explorations of that era. These installations, born out of the social activism and participatory art forms of the time, hold deep significance and have become powerful meditation chambers for Kusama to achieve personal and social harmony, while offering the world a glimpse into its own infiniteness.

The Evolution of Infinity Mirror Rooms

Kusama’s journey into the mesmerizing realm of Infinity Mirror Rooms began in 2000 with her first installation, Fireflies on the Water. This immersive experience featured a dark room illuminated by countless small lights that resembled distant galaxies when reflected endlessly within the space. In a video interview with the Hirshhorn, Kusama spoke about her intent to bring greater peace to the world through these mirror rooms, confirming my own intuition about her artistic aspirations.

Mika Yoshitake acknowledges in her catalog essay that Kusama’s mirror rooms allow us to experience the dual sensation of intimate compression and epic expansion in space. As we find ourselves drawn into the enchanting play of repeated lights, we face the challenge of witnessing our visual concept of self dissolve with each reflection. These Infinity Mirror Rooms serve as meditation chambers where Kusama has ingeniously merged personal and social harmony, providing viewers with a glimpse of their place within the infinite expanse.

Exploring Kusama’s Inner World

While enjoying my visit to Mika Yoshitake at the Hirshhorn, we delved into a discussion about Yayoi Kusama, specifically concerning the upcoming exhibition that promises to be a monumental event. “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” marks the artist’s first North American tour in two decades, leaving art enthusiasts eager with anticipation.

Kusama’s prolific output of work plays a significant role in preventing her from spiraling into difficult mental states, as noted by art critic David Molesky. Yoshitake further explains that Kusama’s unique perspective is shaped by intense childhood experiences, contributing to her fear and anxiety around sex. These experiences gave rise to hallucinations of flowers and dots, which she would draw and watch bleed onto various surfaces. Although not under the influence of drugs, her visions manifested physically, leading to the development of her polka dot motif and serving as an ongoing therapeutic process.

Challenging Conventional Perceptions

It is crucial to avoid viewing Kusama’s work solely through the lens of her mental condition, as this exhibition aims to focus on the Infinity Mirror Rooms and the concept of infinity itself. In an age permeated by virtual reality and virtual spaces, where the idea of infinity takes on new dimensions, these mirror rooms have gained immense popularity, resonating strongly in social media and digital technology.

Kusama’s artistic practice serves not only as a means of personal healing but also as a source of peace and transcendence for a wider audience. Her deep understanding of our shared humanity and the universal nature of our existence is reflected in her mirror rooms. By immersing ourselves in these enchanting spaces, we can experience a profound sense of unity and comfort, while contemplating the infinite within ourselves.

Revelations in the Realm of Infinite Reflections

Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms evoke visualizations reminiscent of sacred Buddhist texts, drawing parallels to the fantastical imagery of enlightenment in Pure Land Buddhism. During the anti-Vietnam war era of the 1960s, Kusama championed a philosophy known as self-obliteration, promoting radical connectivity and the dissolution of individual ego. She staged performances and happenings where participants painted polka dots on each other’s naked bodies—an act promoting equality and resistance against the US invasion of Vietnam. Kusama’s mirror rooms, with their fragmented and repeated reflections, create an illusion of infinite space, inviting viewers to lose themselves within the vast expanse of the universe.

While comparisons to Zen Buddhism were made by art critic Sidney Tillim during the 1960s, Kusama’s work predominantly represents her own cultural heritage rather than embodying Zen principles. The cultural resonance between her mirror rooms and traditional Japanese imagery is evident, particularly in The Obliteration of the Aftermath of Eternity, which contains flickering lanterns reminiscent of an annual summer festival in Hiroshima. Although Kusama might shy away from overt connections, the cultural significance is inherent, reflecting the artist’s celebration of life and the spiritual transformation that occurs within us.

Exploring Infinity through Repetition

Kusama’s work unfolds in a progression of technical efficiency. Following her arrival in New York in 1958, she would paint tirelessly for extended stretches, often forgoing sleep. Additionally, she created installations featuring thousands of stuffed phallic sculptures that enveloped furniture, giving birth to her Accumulations series. One notable installation, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show (1963), consisted of a rowboat covered with these tuberous sculptures, subsequently photographed and reproduced 999 times. Kusama’s process of repetition advanced from physical labor to photographic reproduction and eventually to the instantaneous reflections achieved through the use of mirrors. This repetitive labor effectively dissolves the ego, a hallmark of the psychedelic experience.

Kusama’s affinity for repetition resonates not only within the realm of art but also in philosophical and spiritual contexts. The mention of Aldous Huxley’s book, “The Doors of Perception” and its association with Kusama’s work reflects the profound impact of psychedelic experiences during the creation of her first mirror rooms. The idea that cleansing the doors of perception would unveil the infinite resonates with Kusama’s intent to immerse viewers in a realm of endless possibilities.

The Spectacle of the Infinite at The Broad

With the opening of The Broad in Los Angeles, Yayoi Kusama’s mirror room continues to captivate audiences. The installation Souls of Millions of Light Years Away stands as a testament to its spectacular nature. Adorned with jeweled colored beads that flicker rhythmically, this mirror room became an online sensation after British singer Adele filmed her live performance against its mesmerizing backdrop. Social media, particularly Instagram, played a crucial role in elevating the popularity of Kusama’s artwork.

The upcoming exhibition at the Hirshhorn, “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” showcases the artist’s deep connection to Washington, DC. In 1960, Kusama exhibited her Infinity Net paintings in the same city, making this exhibition a nostalgic homecoming of sorts. Curated by Mika Yoshitake, an expert in postwar Japanese art, this show offers a fresh perspective by focusing on the evolution of Kusama’s mirror rooms rather than presenting a retrospective of her entire body of work. Featuring six mirror room installations, including the historical Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field (1965) and the new All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, this exhibition presents an unprecedented opportunity for art enthusiasts to explore the enchanting world of Kusama’s reflections.

Art as a Gateway to Inner Peace

In a conversation with the Hirshhorn, Kusama expressed her desire for her work to contribute to a more peaceful world. By confronting our anxieties surrounding infinity, we can begin to alleviate the fears associated with mortality and embrace a greater sense of peace. Kusama’s art not only serves as a medium for her own healing but has the power to transcend personal boundaries and offer solace and unity to a broad audience.

Don’t miss the chance to encounter the awe-inspiring Infinity Mirror Rooms of Yayoi Kusama. “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” opens at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC on February 23, 2017 and runs through May 14, 2017. Afterward, the exhibition will travel to prominent art institutions, including the Seattle Art Museum, The Broad (LA), Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, Cleveland Museum of Art, and the High Museum in Atlanta.


1. How can I secure a reservation to experience Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms?

To ensure fair access for all art enthusiasts, most museums require visitors to reserve a specific time slot for viewing the mirror rooms. Details regarding reservations can be found on the websites of the respective museums hosting the exhibition.

2. Are there any age restrictions for experiencing the Infinity Mirror Rooms?

Age restrictions may vary depending on the specific museum and exhibition policies. It is advisable to check with the venue beforehand to ensure a seamless experience for visitors of all ages.

3. How long can I spend in each Infinity Mirror Room?

The duration of each visit to the mirror rooms may be limited to maintain a smooth flow of visitors. Typically, visitors are given a few minutes in each room to fully immerse themselves in the experience.

4. Can I take photographs inside the Infinity Mirror Rooms?

Photography rules vary depending on the museum hosting the exhibition. While some museums permit photography, others may restrict or prohibit it entirely. It is essential to consult the museum guidelines before your visit.

5. Are there any other artists who have explored similar themes of infinity in their work?

Many artists throughout history have engaged with the concept of infinity in various forms. Some notable examples include the works of Salvador Dalí, M.C. Escher, and James Turrell. Exploring the art of these visionaries can provide further insights into the limitless possibilities of artistic expression.