Michael Bergeron
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Preview - Kusama: At the End of the Universe

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An immersive environment called The Infinity Room by artist Refik Anadol wowed attendees to last December’s Day for Night festival. Yet that concept is one of many innovations originated by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

Two of Kusama’s Infinity Rooms and four recent paintings, as well as a large colorful sculpture of a pumpkin, will be on view starting Sunday, June 12 as part of the exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, titled Kusama: At the End of the Universe.

Kusama designed her first Infinity Room “for an exhibition titled Floor Show at the Richard Castellane Gallery in New York City in 1965.” Born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929, Kusama moved to America in the late 1950s. “She returned to Japan in 1973 because of how her work was being copied by other artists including Warhol,” MFAH curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Alison de Lima Greene tells Free Press Houston during a media preview. “Claes Oldenburg copied her soft sculptures.”

The two sensory-challenging rooms on display are Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity and Love is Calling. The latter holds about a half dozen viewers at a time. The mirror filled room abounds with stalactite and stalagmite looking “tentacle-like forms” that abound in Kusama’s signature polka dots. Speakers transmit Kusama reading her poem “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears” in Japanese.

Here is a fragment of that poem translated into English: “Dancing in the night sky in a myriad of colors, the fireworks sprinkled dust all over my body. I will never forget that exhilarating moment. Now I think is the time to dedicate my heart to you, my dearest. Was the beauty of the end of one’s life nothing more than illusion?”

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By contrast, Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity allows one (or two for couples) person at a time for a period of approximately one minute. Because of possible vertigo effect, anyone wearing high heels will be asked to leave their shoes outside. The room represents the Japanese tradition of lighting lanterns and putting them in a river causing a wave of light as they float out to the sea.

You step onto a small platform that is surrounded by water. The observer is likewise surrounded by multiple lights that are magnified by mirrored walls and ceiling into, yes you guessed it, infinity. As soon as you have your bearings all the lights go out and you are thrust into a primal darkness. Slowly the lights start to flicker on and no sooner has the entire room been reignited the experience is over. Everyone leaving the room has a smile on their face.

“Kusama: At the End of the Universe” will be on display at the MFAH until September 18, 2024. At that time, “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” will be put in storage and become a permanent installation when the MFAH opens the now-under construction Kinder Building in late 2024.

— Michael Bergeron