To infinity and beyond: Yayoi Kusama’s popular Infinity Rooms and Instagram fame

Graphic by Chloe Frelinghuysen

What does infinity look like?

You may have seen pictures of rooms with seemingly endless expanses while scrolling through Instagram, perhaps with the caption “Infinity Room.” But like most things, infinity needs to be experienced in person. Yayoi Kusama can show you.

The Marciano Art Foundation, located in central Los Angeles, is one of the world’s most diverse and important private collections of contemporary art. It offers free general admission, and is only an hour and a half away from the 5Cs by public transportation.

The world-renowned art museum hosts a large collection of works that have become famous through visitors’ posts on Instagram. Arguably, the display best suited for the social media platform is Kusama’s 2011 piece “With All My Love For The Tulips, I Pray Forever.”

Kusama’s work always leaves me breathless. The Japanese artist’s works are internationally known for their immersive displays. When I stepped into the installation space of “With All My Love For The Tulips, I Pray Forever,” I entered Kusama’s world of swirling oversized flower-potted tulips and innumerable red polka dots. I stared at the swirling expanse in awe like a wide-eyed child.

Other visitors shared my reaction — but most looked at the red and white shapes through a lens, carefully taking their pictures before leaving with their heads bowed down, scrolling through their newly acquired postable treasures. I looked around at the larger-than-life tulips that swayed in perfect silence, and wondered what story they had and didn’t get to tell.

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In the age of social media, Kusama’s work has become famous due to its online exposure. Influencers, eager instagrammers and art lovers travel far and wide to see her installations. Kusama’s installations have unprecedented demand, create long lines, crash websites and sell out tickets for months. One morning last year, 50,000 people tried to get tickets to “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” in Ontario, Canada.

The unprecedented popularity of her exhibitions is what made Kusama the highest-selling female artist in the world. Kusama has revitalized people’s interest in going to art museums and changed the way the art world treats photographing art. But even with the success and world-wide reach of her work, her art’s underlying messages are often overlooked in favor of their aesthetic beauty.

Kusama’s story is just as valuable and inspirational as her captivating artwork. Kusama, 89 years old, overcame childhood trauma, oppressive sexism and mental illness to become an icon late in life.

From a young age, she had hallucinations from a mental illness that distorted the way she saw the world, its colors and shapes. According to The Broad, a museum that hosts another famous work of hers, “Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” her work reflects what she sees: “Kusama’s work resides somewhere between representation and abstraction: for the artist, representation, and for everyone else, abstraction.” Art allows her a clearer way to express her reality.

When Kusama moved to New York City in the late 1950s to try to make it as an artist, many of her male counterparts appropriated her ideas. For example, Andy Warhol copied her innovative idea of creating repeated images. Kusama’s 1963 exhibit “One Thousand Boats” was the inspiration for Warhol’s 1966 “Cow Wallpaper” and his continued use of repeating images.

Many male artists who used Kusama’s ideas were widely successful, which caused her a great deal of pain. In Manhattan, Kusama attempted suicide and later returned to Japan. After another suicide attempt in Japan, she checked herself into a mental institution that valued art therapy. To this day, Kusama lives by choice in a mental institution. Despite her struggles, Kusama decided that her will to create was stronger than her will to die.

I want to urge readers to not only visit her works in LA, at The Broad or the Marciano Art Foundation, but to also be conscious of the stories behind aesthetically captivating art. Feel free to take photos and promote the works of artists, but also take the time to value works of art for their nuanced meaning. Often, I have found, the story is more inspirational than the work itself.

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Chloe Frelinghuysen PZ ’21 is from Connecticut. She is a passionate artist and art history nerd.

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