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Famed Japanese pop artist Yayoi Kusama has brought her Infinity Mirrors exhibition to Cleveland. The show will run through September 30 in the Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall and Gallery at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The infinity mirror boxes are the main draw of Kusama’s exhibition – they are the size of a small, square room, maybe ten feet at most in each direction. Attendees walk in to each room, the door is shut, and 20-30 seconds for viewing is allowed before the door re-opens. Most of the rooms can accommodate no more than 2-3 people at a time as there is only a short platform leading in to each box.

Photos: Michael Murray

Infinity mirrors work by facing two mirrors parallel to each other to create the effect of a never ending space. Inside the box, it is covered in mirrors, so there is nowhere else for an image to go. For those with a bit of claustrophobia, the stunning results create the illusion of open space; it doesn’t have the same feeling as say, being in a mirrored elevator. The highlighted works inside – the never-ending neon pumpkin fields and sea of polka-dotted spheres, the simulation of infinite stars – create worlds you feel compelled to keep walking into.   

Kusama trained at the Kyoto School for Arts and Crafts in her native Japan, then moved to New York City just in time to experience the ‘60s. She became famous after holding several controversial art events around the city featuring naked people painted with polka dots, and for writing a letter to President Nixon offering to have sex with him if he ended the Vietnam War. The infinity mirror boxes would come later, and now sit in museums worldwide. Her style is primarily defined as minimalist, anchored in surrealism.

The exhibit also features paintings and sculptures by Kusama, and the documentation of her history, including her residency papers that allowed her to live in the U.S., and handwritten designs for an infinity box that never came to be. The recurring polka-dot theme is shown off in a variety of mediums from sculptures made of stuffed cotton and metal to acrylic canvas paintings.  

The final work in the exhibition is a stark-white painted room, a typical home with a kitchen, sofa, work desk, all painted completely in flat white paint, almost giving the appearance of primer.  As attendees come through, they are handed a paper with five polka-dot stickers and encouraged to start filling in the white space. One attendee was seen putting a polka-dot sticker onto an unsuspecting friend’s behind, not an approved part of the canvass but fun nonetheless.  

The exhibit is a retrospective of Kusama’s career that now spans over 70 years. She is knowingly entering the last years of her life, and her long-time obsession with death appears to have become more contemplative than volatile. The Japanese culture from which she hails views life and death as one phenomenon; dying is an accepted practice. Japan’s two main religions, Shinto and Buddhism, both believe death is a journey that leads to other realms, other “lives”. Recent exhibitions by Kusama titled I Who Am Now In Heaven, and One Eternal Soul, reflect these values and Kusama’s understanding of what her life in this world here has really meant.

“Always look for a new world,” she says in a recorded message to audiences at the end of the exhibit, “and always look at yourself with tenacity while being conscious of what kind of human being you are becoming. The young generation is in control of an enormous future. So I want the, to fight with all their might to live a life just as big, filled with hope.”  

And such is the nature of the infinity mirror boxes – thus even from within a confined space, there is no end.

Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition runs now through September 30 at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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