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Enlightenment in a hurry: ‘Infinity Mirrors’ at High Museum

“Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” asks a lot of the visitor.

Fans of Kusama, seeking the mind-altering experience that her art promises, must scramble for tickets, wait in line in the lobby of the Wieland Pavilion at the High Museum, then wait in line at each of the “Infinity Rooms.”

At the head of each line is a docent with a stopwatch. Visitors receive specific instructions for each room. Then the door opens, and in you go, to a lighted, sparkle-warm taste of everlasting twinkle.

Twenty or 30 seconds later (depending on the room), the door opens again, and you are ushered back out.

It is a bid for enlightenment, on a tight deadline.

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That sounds like a tall order, if not a contradiction in terms. But early visitors report powerful experiences at the exhibit, which continues through Feb. 17 and has sold out almost all of its 140,000 tickets (see box).

“It was heavy,” said Madilyn Bedsole, 19, a student of interior design at SCAD. “I can’t describe how I felt. I left the room and I felt drained, it was so crazy. I wasn’t unhappy with it. It was different than I ever expected. You can’t look at a picture of those rooms and understand how it makes you feel.”

Bedsole, a Buckhead resident, entered an Instagram contest and won, against stiff competition, the opportunity to put the very first colored sticker on the wall in “The Obliteration Room.” (There were some 10,500 contestants.) This section of the exhibit is an all-white room, with white furniture, white walls and white plants. Visitors are given a sheet of six colored polka-dot stickers and invited to add their own contribution to the setting, sticking dots on any surface they like. By Feb. 17, the white room will indeed be obliterated under a rain of colorful stickers.

SCAD student Madilyn Bedsole puts the first sticker in the “Obliteration Room.” CONTRIBUTED: HIGH MUSEUM OF ART

By that point 140,000 people will have participated in the Kusama mind-meld. And that seems to be what has attracted so many to the 89-year-old artist’s work. At the Kusama exhibit, you walk inside her imagination, and the door closes behind you. You are immersed in her world, and you participate in that universe.

It is what curator Mika Yoshitake calls “radical connectivity,” which, she said, “aligns with the current generation’s connection economy.” Yoshitake, who organized the exhibit for Washington’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Gallery, where it was first displayed, spoke on Nov. 15 to a group previewing the show.

(Yoshitake pointed out that Nov. 15 was the birthday of Georgia O’Keeffe, the American artist who answered a letter from a callow young Japanese artist in 1957 and gave her the courage to travel to the U.S.)

Some 160,000 saw the show at the Hirshhorn in 2017, said Yoshitake, and that was too many. Each museum hosting the exhibit has learned from the mistakes of the previous museum, she said.

The Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the High Museum covers six decades of Kusama's creative output. In addition to Kusama’s iconic Infinity rooms, the exhbit includes sculptures, paintings, works on paper, film excerpts, archival ephemera, and additional large-scale installations. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC)

Even with a smaller group visiting the High, the crowd will be an ever-present part of the Kusama experience. The museum tells visitors to expect wait times of up to 20 minutes at each mirror room.

And there are rules. Those peering into the “Love Forever” room, a “peep-show” styled creation inside a closed hexagonal structure, should know that if they drop their phone inside the room, they won’t get it back until the day is over, or perhaps even until the next day begins.

No cellphones, or any other cameras, are allowed inside the “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” room. According to Yoshitake, a maladroit visitor in Washington dropped a cellphone, which broke one of the pumpkins.

Long lines, 30 seconds of contemplation, strict rules — how can such conditions lead to that one-with-the-cosmos feeling that visitors seek?

For many visitors, those strictures are no impediment. “It feels like a reminder,” said Taylor Kingrea, a docent who has had a chance to visit the rooms repeatedly. “It tells you love is infinite, time is infinite and death is unknown.”

“Dots Obsession - Love Transformed into Dots,” was created in 2007 by Yayoi Kusama, reflecting her ongoing fascination with polka dots.  HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM (HYOSUB SHIN / AJC)

ON EXHIBIT

“Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors”

Through Feb. 17. Advance tickets are sold out; a hundred tickets for each day’s exhibit will be sold each morning at the museum box office, available on a first-come, first-served basis. $29; $5 age 5 and under. One adult must be present for every two children 12 and under. These are all timed tickets, and offer access at a particular hour and minute. Those who are more than 10 minutes late for their appointed time might not gain entry. High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-733-4400, high.org.

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