Yayoi Kusama at SF MOMA: Spreading Infinite Love

It only costs $30 to see Infinite Love, an exhibition of artwork by the 94-year-old artist Yayoi Kusama, now on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, through September 2024. But only if you can get a ticket. Timed entry tickets to see Kusama’s “Infinite Mirror Rooms” and large-scale pumpkin sculptures are made available early each month for the month that follows and are snapped up within hours. With similar shows in the world’s biggest art capitals in recent years, she is the most famous and successful living female artist in the world, with auction sales of $174 million in 2021.

Kusama's Mirror Room with multi-colored circles

Kusama’s Mirror Room

My artist friends Angela White, Ebba Navas, and I managed to get 2:15 pm tickets on October 10.

We boarded the Ferry in Vallejo for the 45-minute trip to San Francisco. We took a short ride via Lyft from the SF Ferry Building to the Museum, but the distance is walkable, about 1.2 miles. We arrived around 12:30 pm and stopped at the Museum’s café to have a lunch of artistically created salads and drinks. Guests at the bar recommended a cocktail whimsically titled “Art is Subjective.” On the fifth floor we posed with Kusama’s Aspiring to Pumpkin’s Love, the Love in My Heart, a massive polka-dot pumpkin sculpture with five stems and undulating walls. We were ready to explore the mirror rooms.

Three Art is Speculative cocktails

Art is Speculative

Dreaming of Earth’s Sphericity, I Would Offer My Love (2023) is Kusama’s newest mirror room, found on the sixth floor. The interior is lined with mirrors reflecting bright colors and lights, creating the illusion of endlessly recurring spaces. iPhones in hand, as though we could capture the out-of-body sensation, we saw ourselves reflected everywhere in the room. The second room is titled Love is Calling (2013). Darker than the first, the room is illuminated by colored fabric inflatable forms that extend from the floor and ceiling. We heard the voice of the artist reciting a poem about love.

Only a handful of visitors are allowed into each room at a time for a two-minute interval.

In anticipation, we thought the two minutes was meager, but it turned out to be enough and we emerged from the rooms a little giddy and overstimulated. Kusama’s intent is for the viewer to lose him- or herself in a process of “self-obliteration,” where one’s identity and ego disintegrates into an unending array of mirrored images distributed across the room. Upon reflection, perhaps, two minutes was not quite enough.

Jean, Ebba, and Angela in Kusama's Mirror Room

Jean, Ebba, and Angela in Kusama’s Mirror Room

Kusama has been on the cutting edge of art trends since the 1950s.

Born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, she started drawing and painting as a child, but her mother did not appreciate her obvious talent, often taking away her inks and canvases. She drew pumpkins covered with dots and entire drawings consisting only of lines. At the age of ten, she began to experience hallucinations which she described as flashes of light and fields of dots. She painted what she saw in these visions, including flowers that moved and spoke to her, polka-dots, and fabric patterns that came to life.

Kusama studied the nihonga style of painting at the Kyoto City University of Arts and had a solo show in 1952 but was intrigued with abstract expressionism and obsessed with escaping Japan’s provincial art scene. She moved to New York in 1958. Enduring racism and sexism in a mostly male art world in New York, she persisted, and became part of the avant-garde movement, developing an artistic voice that incorporated pop art and minimalism. Exhibitions of her dot paintings, which she called “infinity nets,” garnered positive reviews leading to additional gallery invitations. She drew greater attention in the mid-1960s when she began organizing “happenings” with naked participants painted with brightly colored polka-dots. Infused with a love-not-war philosophy, her works include painting, sculpture, textiles and fashion, performance art, film, installations, and literary works. She was a workaholic, but gradually her health deteriorated. She moved back to Japan in 1973. In her autobiography (written in the 1970s, published in 2001), she wrote about being treated for mental illness at various times in her life. Recognizing her own vulnerability, she moved into a mental facility in Tokyo in 1977, within walking distance of her studio. Her work has been featured in numerous major international museum exhibitions over the past three decades.

“Like tens of thousands of artists before me, I was being drawn toward a mountain peak that has never been mapped or climbed. If the true shape of this peak had been knowable, my life would have turned to grey. Each day I learned anew what an inscrutable, ambition-filled human struggle it is to paint, to create.”

For more information visit https://www.sfmoma.org/exhibition/yayoi-kusama-infinite-love/ and https://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/. Tickets free for members and 18 and under.

SF MOMA Marquee for Yayoi Kusama