Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room draws crowds opening night at Aspen Art Museum
IF YOU GO …
What: Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Where the Lights in My Heart Go’
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Through May 10; open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: Visitors wear protective booties on their feet and are required to shed big coats or backpacks before entering; up to three people may enter at a time; kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult; aspenartmuseum.org
A festive crowd of tourists and locals — from curious casual observers to art-world insiders — filled the Aspen Art Museum on Thursday night as it opened the much-hyped Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room installation.
“Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms bring them out for sure,” Aspen Art Museum senior curator Max Weintraub said, greeting and listening to visitors’ reactions after their time inside the immersive installation. “We’re excited to have a large turnout this evening, and we’re expecting it to be a steady crowd the next couple months.”
As visitors arrived on the ground floor, they were met by museum guides who signed them up for their 90-second appointment in the room.
From there, visitors took in the rest of the shows in the museum — it’s hosting concurrent shows by recent Turner Prize winner Oscar Murillo, Abraham Cruzvillegas and Seth Price — or spent their wait-time at a party on the rooftop, where the museum hosted live music, a buffet, beer-and-wine bar along with Kusama dot-themed children’s art-making activities.
Locals like Brett Howley , who arrived shortly after the opening began at 5:30 p.m., waited for about an hour. An Aspen Institute staffer, she had followed the Kusama phenomenon on Instagram and had tried to see one of the artist’s blockbuster exhibitions at the Hirschorn Museum in Washington D.C. but could never get in.
“When I tried to go in D.C. the lines were always super-long, so I never got to go,” she said. “So it’s nice to have one in our backyard.”
Aspenite Sandy Johnson, likewise, tried to get in to see the Kusama at The Broad in Los Angeles, but couldn’t brave the five-hour wait time.
“It’s a great community event,” Johnson said of Aspen’s Kusama moment. “I think she is amazing. She’s been doing so many creative things for so long. It’s great to have her here.”
Johnson and her husband, Peter, said the 90-second limit inside the room was more than enough time.
“It was a matter of claustrophobia at first, like ‘Oh my god!’” Peter Johnson said. “But then the light started coming through and we said, ‘Oh, I see how this works.’ It was amazing.”
The couple planned to come back with friends visiting for the holidays, and with their 8-year-old grandson.
Locals Bryan Daugherty and Heather Becker were among the first to go inside, arriving shortly before the 5:30 p.m. opening and waiting just 15 minutes.
“We will be back again,” Becker said.
Aspen artists and gallerists came to celebrate Kusama as well, from the Baldwin Gallery’s Richard Edwards to 212 Gallery’s Kate Redwing.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Redwing, who had previously traveled to see five Kusama installations elsewhere, from Art Basel Miami Beach to the Art Gallery of Ontario. “This one is outstanding. … The Aspen Art Museum has put us on the map in the art world and this especially is groundbreaking to have this here for our winter season. It’s a great contribution to town.”
Also among the Kusama crowd was Chris Bendon, the former city of Aspen development director who shepherded the downtown museum through its contentious land-use approval and public hearings years ago.
“It was cool,” Bendon said after stepping out of the mirror room. “And it’s cool to have art that’s accessible that you can come and experience here.”
Kusama has been making her Infinity Mirror Rooms since 1963, but they’ve become a worldwide phenomenon in recent years as the Instagram-friendly installations have made the 90-year-old art world legend a hero of the social media generation.
Titled “Where the Lights in My Heart Go,” the room installed in the Aspen museum’s second-floor corridor is a box measuring just under 10 feet high and wide. Its gleaming stainless steel exterior and mirrored interior walls are punctured with small circular holes that let in light to create Kusama’s signature immersive optical experience.
When the door closes behind the viewer, they find themselves in a sort of celestial floating space. Small holes in the walls let in light from outside and reflect — yes, infinitely — across the four-mirrored walls, ceiling and floor, with the viewers also replicated throughout.
The 90-second time limit inside is enough for viewers to realize they can peak out of the pinholes and see the world outside, in this cause the mountainscapes of Red Mountain and Independence Pass. It is also, of course, enough time to snap the obligatory Kusama selfie.
“Where the Lights in My Heart Go,” made in 2016, is unique among Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms in that its minimalism and that its effects are created entirely by ambient light sources. Inside, there are no dangling reflective objects.
For most of the Aspen Art Museum installation, natural sunlight will fuel its effects — meaning the experience will vary depending on the weather — but for the evening opening and a handful of after-dark events the museum has installed extra lighting around it.
Visitors on Thursday night compared the experience to a starry night in the backcountry, a dark-sky preserve and used words like “expansive” and “disorienting” to describe it.
“I think some people are really thrown by it, in a good way,” Weintraub said. “It’s an immersive experience and I don’t think much can prepare you for it until you are in there.”
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With the likelihood that some level of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings will still be in place come Mountain Fair weekend, July 23-25, organizers are taking some aspects of the fair to the streets and elsewhere around town.