It’s amazing what you can do with some coloured lights and a few mirrors. But I mean really amazing - how is it that every time, despite knowing full well the rather prosaic materials they’re made from, my visceral reaction to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room installations is always: “Oooooooh”?
This show at Tate Modern, open to members from May 18 and to the general public from June 14 (for God’s sake book, it’s going to be a bunfight) features two of Kusama’s mirror rooms: the smallish but moderately enchanting Chandelier of Grief, and Infinity Mirrored Room - Filled with the Brilliance of Life, one of her largest installations to date and created for Tate’s 2012 retrospective of her work. Up to four people at a time can be in the spaces, for up to two minutes.
That’s enough time for the former installation, which is very beautiful and eminently instagrammable, but oddly austere with the brilliant light emanating from the central (endlessly repeated) chandelier. It’s not quite enough for the second, which is genuinely magical. Strings of colour-changing lights hang from the ceiling of a dark mirrored room, with gently wibbling water at your feet (don’t worry, there’s a path). Occasionally you are plunged, momentarily, into pitch blackness, before being surrounded again by shifting, twinkling light stretching out into, well, infinity around you.
The longer you look, the more depth and distance you see. It’s almost possible to disappear though not quite - the problem with mirrors is that you can’t escape yourself. I felt depressingly corporeal each time I caught my own reflection, in this strange landscape of light, but when you can ignore it, this is endlessly entrancing. I could have stayed an hour. It’s like being in the world’s most restful videogame.
Around these two main events, curators have put together a fascinating display telling Kusama’s story, from her childhood in Matsumoto, Japan, through her arrival in America in the late Fifties and the increasingly ambitious, bizarre, pioneering work she made there to almost no attention until much later in her life (now in her 90s, she lives voluntarily in a psychiatric institution in Tokyo, where she continues to work). They highlight Kusama’s experience of hallucinations - often terrifying incidents which have occurred since her early life and make her feel as if she is dissolving - a “self-obliteration”. That out of this trauma she has made such consistently uplifting, touching art is a wonder.
Photographs show a solemn-faced child; a steady-gazed girl surrounded by bold, organic-looking drawings; a dynamic young woman becoming a part of her work; an uncompromising older artist entirely comfortable in her idiosyncrasy. Clips from her 1966 Walking Piece, in which she trots around New York in a pink kimono with a parasol, show an artist unafraid to comment on the racism and sexism she faces in the city, while a new sculpture, The Universe as Seen from the Stairway to Heaven, is a peep-show arrangement of holes and mirrors that explores Kusama’s hallucinations and made me determined to buy an office kaleidoscope for use at moments of high stress. You’ll be entranced.
In partnership with Bank of America, with additional support from Uniqlo. Tate Modern, from May 18 (members)/June 14 to June 12, 2022