Yayoi Kusama’s infinity Mirror Room closing early at Aspen Art Museum

People gathered on the opening night of Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirror Room, "Where the Lights in My Heart Go," on Dec. 21. The installtion will close on Feb. 23.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Aspen Art Museum will close its Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room 11 weeks early due to a building code violation that arose from the installation blocking elevator access.

The last day of the exhibition in the museum’s second-floor corridor will be Feb. 23. Museum and city of Aspen officials have been working together on resolving the code issue since early January, and decided last week to close it ahead of its planned May 10 end date.

“It is the determination of both parties that fulfilling the artwork’s need for natural light and appropriate space and code requirements cannot be achieved equitably within the museum’s layout at this time,” reads a statement prepared by the museum.

The much-hyped Aspen installation brought the global art and social media sensation of Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms to the museum. An estimated 5,000-plus visitors have gone inside the immersive work, titled “Where the Lights in My Heart Go,” since it opened to the public Dec. 19.

The box measures just under 10 feet high and wide. Its reflective stainless steel exterior and mirrored interior walls are punctured with small holes that let light in to create Kusama’s signature optical effect. While the viewer is inside — an experience limited to 90 seconds — the light reflections cause the illusion of floating in an infinite celestial space.

Installed on the north end of the museum’s second-floor corridor, the artwork blocks the entrance to the museum’s elevator. Since the Kusama opening, museum staff has used its freight elevator for handicapped access to the second floor.

Soon after the art opening, a city building department staffer noted the location blocking the only public entrance to the museum’s elevator on the second floor, said city chief building official Mike Metheny.

The blockage is in violation of the International Building Code, to which the city of Aspen adheres. Under the code, the elevator must be accessible and the area in front of its entrance must be clear.

City building officials turned to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, which oversees elevator inspection and permitting for the region, to learn whether using the freight elevator was a legal resolution. Council determined it was not.

“The AAM regrets any inconvenience resulting from its early closure,” the museum statement says.

When the Kusama installation was announced last year, it was expected to be installed in the museum’s open-air rooftop sculpture garden. The piece had previously been exhibited outdoors, including at the deCordova Sculpture Park in Massachusetts. However, late concerns arose about doing so in the high alpine climate in wintertime. The semi-enclosed portion of the rooftop space was not a viable alternative, as Kusama’s United Kingdom-based installation team found the box would not fit under the trusses of the ceiling there.

Museum officials decided to install it in the second-floor corridor in early December, said museum chief operating officer Luis Yllanes.

Metheny said the museum has appropriately addressed the issue since it came to their attention.

“They have been nothing but responsive and professional in their handling of the situation,” Metheny said. “The museum and the city worked very well together and were able to reach a resolution.”

Kusama, 90, has been making variations of her mirror rooms since the 1960s, but they’ve become a worldwide phenomenon through Instagram in recent years as visitors have sought selfies inside of Kusama’s creations. The New York Times, in November, called Kusama’s rooms “the art world’s equivalent of Star Wars premieres.”

Fans have waited in hours-long lines to experience Infinity Rooms in major cities like New York and Los Angeles. At the Aspen Art Museum, wait times never stretched that long, though “Where the Lights in My Heart Go” drew steady and enthusiastic crowds.

“We are pleased to have shared ‘Where the Lights in My Heart Go’ with well-over 5,000 AAM visitors since December 2019,” the museum statement reads, “grateful to the city of Aspen for their professionalism in working with us to reach this decision, and thankful to our AAM visitors for their ongoing support.”