Yayoi Kusama, a brilliant Japanese artist who first made waves in the 60s, will be the focus of this spring’s Hirshhorn exhibition, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors. It will no doubt be one of the most popular exhibitions of the spring, let alone the year. It will also probably be the most Instagramed thing you see for the next few months with these magnificent mirrored rooms seemingly tailor-made for the selfie generation. But I truly hope that visitors remember one thing, if nothing else: that all of this is a result of her mental illness and her unabashed strength in sharing that with the world.
From reading about her life, seeing interviews and witnessing the power of her immersive work, I can’t imagine what life must be like when you don’t feel like your whole self. Sure, we all struggle, but mental illness can be a different kind of demon that many would rather avoid discussing. I won’t pretend to know or understand what mental illness is like but it is all too often a topic that is still thought of as taboo and often times people suffer in silence. But Kusama, through her work, has vividly expressed her hallucinations with a certain magnetic power that leaves us all in awe. Her hallucinations are our gift and we revel in it with hashtags and selfies.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy this exhibition with all the laughter and joy Kusama herself wishes for the world. I’m just saying that too often when we are immersed in the glitter of self-admiration and the environment that provides the perfect backdrop for it, we forget the context that put us there (for a far more serious and extreme example of this, think back to those selfies at Auschwitz).
There are certainly situations that vary in the degree to which you should probably do more contemplation and less self-aggrandizing on Instagram and Kusama is rather low on that scale – but that is why I am writing about it now. I just don’t want it to completely fall off the scale completely as we enter the beginning of the Infinity Mirrors tour.
Like I said, we will be seeing nothing but Kusama the next few months but in all the beauty just be aware of the pain behind it. I guarantee it will bring far more appreciation and meaning when you step inside those glittering rooms.
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors will open Thursday February 23, 2017 at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden. For more information, go to hirshhorn.si.edu.