New Works and No Lines: How the Cleveland Museum of Art Is Changing the Way Visitors See Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirrors’
New tickets will go on sale each week, meaning you don't have to plan months in advance to get the perfect Infinity Room selfie.
The Yayoi Kusama juggernaut is continuing its domination of North America as the octogenarian’s blockbuster show “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” opened at the Cleveland Museum of Art on July 7. But while visitors can expect the artist’s signature kaleidoscopic rooms to offer plenty of opportunities to capture the perfect selfie, the show’s Ohio iteration looks to improve the experience in two key ways: There is no standing in line to get a ticket, and the curators have snagged a couple of additions to the show that haven’t appeared at the other venues.
“We [don’t] have a standby line like some of the other venues,” Elizabeth Bolander, the CMA’s director of audience insights and services told artnet News. The museum has already sold roughly half of its projected tickets in a number of limited pre-sales, but for those who don’t have the foresight to plan a museum day trip months in advance, there is also an alternative to standing hours in line.
The remaining tickets—timed in 15 minutes intervals—are being released on a weekly basis, with interested guests able to reserve their slots online or by phone on Monday mornings. “It makes it a little bit easier for people in that they won’t have to come all the way down to wait in line for hours,” Bolander said. “We want to maintain a great guest experience while having as many tickets available as we can for the people who want to come and see it.”
For those who have already caught the show at one of its previous stops—the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC; the Seattle Art Museum; the Broad in Los Angeles; and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto—the CMA is providing a reason to make a return visit for the penultimate venue, including exclusive new works. (“Infinity Mirrors” will close out its run at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta early next year.)
“We have all the fan favorites, plus several Cleveland-exclusive artworks,” Bolander said. Those include two sculptures, one from the CMA collection, the other from the nearby Akron Art Museum, an additional Infinity Room, and an outdoor installation titled Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees, which greets visitors as they approach the museum building.
“There are about a dozen trees wrapped in Kusama’s iconic polka dot fabric,” curator Reto Thüring told artnet News. “The museum has this gorgeous outdoor space right in front of its doors. We thought it would be really beautiful to include that as part of the exhibition, as well as create a visual opening to it.” (Thüring is the museum’s chair of Modern, contemporary, and decorative art, and performing arts and curator of contemporary art.)
The site-specific work has been produced for the occasion based on the artist’s careful instructions. The museum worked with several textile producers in Europe to get the red and white pattern and the durable, semi-stretch material just right. Kusama and her studio were in close communication with Thüring, approving the final fabric sample before production began and ensuring the exact right amount of each tree trunk was covered.
“We’re really excited to bring the exhibition outside the museum,” Bolander said, noting that even people who aren’t lucky enough to snag a ticket can still get a taste of the show. “Guests will have this fabulous, Kusama-rich experience before they even walk in the front door.”
“Kusama’s vision of a world obliterated by dots is beautifully expressed in this work, specifically because it includes the natural environment,” Thüring added. “That’s a theme we’re continuing into our atrium space as well. We wanted to create a narrative that takes the visitor inside the museum.”
To that end, the museum has added Where the Lights in My Heart Go (2016), an Infinity Room that isn’t appearing at any other museum on the tour. The silver box is mirrored on every surface—the outer and inner walls, floor, and ceiling—punctured only by small holes through which sunlight can filter in. Inside, Thüring said, “it’s like a very vast and very dark universe in which you have these small dots of light like stars in the distance.”
“It adds another dimension to the Infinity Mirror Rooms because it is the first one that doesn’t use artificial light,” Thüring explained, noting that the museum was lucky enough to secure a loan of the work from one of its trustees. “We knew from the beginning it would make for a perfect fit in the atrium space, where you have all of this natural light. The work will really enhance the overall experience for our visitors.”
(The jury is still out on the Instagram appeal of photographs taken inside. “I haven’t tried,” Thüring admitted. “I would guess its certainly doable. When I get into a room like this, the last thing that comes into my mind is take a photo; I’d rather look.”)
The piece, which is inspired by Japanese tea houses, debuted at London’s Victoria Miro in 2016 and hasn’t been shown in the US before, outside of Art Basel in Miami Beach. (It will also be on view outdoors at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, July 5–October 28, 2018.)
At the CMA, Where the Lights is surrounded by the silvery steel orbs of Kusama’s Narcissus Garden, which joined the exhibition at the AGO in Toronto. The artist made the piece for the 1966 Venice Biennale and revisited it at England’s Chatsworth House in 2009 and Philip Johnson’s Glass House in 2016. MoMA PS1 has also brought it to Rockaway Beach in Queens, where it opened at a former military base on July 1.
“It’s site-specific so it looks very different each time it is being installed, depending on where an institution decides to put it,” Thüring said. “We’re almost integrating the Infinity Room into the layout of Narcisscus Garden.”
“We’ll create this dazzling pattern with reflective surfaces in the atrium,” he added. “I think it will be pretty spectacular.”
The rest of the show offers the same comprehensive look at the artist’s career as the previous venues—from her phallic upholstered “penis chairs” and documentation of her “Happenings” performances in New York in the 1960s to the immersive mirrored Infinity Rooms, the colorful, interactive stickers of the white Obliteration Room, and paintings from her “Infinity Nets” and “My Eternal Soul” series.
Also back is the unfortunate—at least for selfie-takers—30-second rule governing time inside the Infinity Rooms. “Per the artist’s intent, each room is limited to a 20- or 30-second experience,” Bolander said. By all accounts, it’s a necessary step to accommodate the immense crowds the show attracts.
When the show debuted at the Hirshhorn, the museum saw an insane 6,566 percent increase in its membership. That trend has spread to the CMA. “We have sold several thousand new memberships in advance of the show,” Bolander admitted. In the first members-exclusive pre-sale, she added, “we sold an unprecedented number of tickets in that one day. I believe it was over 20,000.”
Altogether, the museum is expecting to welcome 100,000 art lovers to the exhibition, which will stay open late on Tuesday and Thursday nights in order to accommodate demand and increase capacity. “We’ll continue to monitor how people are going through and what the experience is like for guests, adding additional spots if we can,” Bolander said.
Should the current attendance estimate prove accurate, it would make “Infinity Mirrors” the museum’s second-most visited exhibition since its 2014 expansion and renovation, behind “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse.” It would rank among the top 10 shows in the last 30 years, a list topped by “Egypt’s Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep II and His World,” which welcomed 186,139 visitors back in 1992. (Comparisons to earlier exhibitions are less useful, as older shows often stayed on view for years at a time.)
Topping that number is likely impossible due to capacity issues, but Cleveland still almost certainly has a hit on its hands. “We know we’ll have a lot of visitors who have never been to Cleveland before,” Bolander said. “We’ve been really excited to see how many people have been looking into buying tickets.”
See more photographs of work from the upcoming exhibition below.
“Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” is on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio, July 7–September 30, 2018; and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, November 18, 2018–February 17, 2019.
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