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Tentacles and polka dots fill iconic artist’s ‘infinity room’ in Miami exhibit

FILE -- Persons walk in the installation "Love is Calling" (2013) by Yayoi Kusama from Kyoto in the exhibition 'Logical Emotion: Contemporary Art from Japan' in the Art Museum Moritzburg in Halle (Saale), central Germany, Friday, May 22, 2015.
Jens Meyer/AP
FILE -- Persons walk in the installation "Love is Calling" (2013) by Yayoi Kusama from Kyoto in the exhibition 'Logical Emotion: Contemporary Art from Japan' in the Art Museum Moritzburg in Halle (Saale), central Germany, Friday, May 22, 2015.

MIAMI (AP) — The Pérez Art Museum Miami’s latest installation doesn’t look like much at first. It’s a large white box sitting inside a gallery with a line of people waiting outside, each holding a special ticket.

But once the box’s door opens, you feel as though you’re about to be hurled into outer space, dodging rainbow polka dot alien tentacles. When the door shuts behind you, the darkened room is illuminated by the inflatable soft sculptures that glow and change color. Your image in the mirrors multiplies and disappears as you slowly walk around, making sure not to touch the inflatables sprouting from the floor and dangling from the ceiling. The enclosed room goes on for eternity.

The only sound you hear — besides the low hum of the motors keeping the tentacles inflated — is the voice of the iconic contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama reciting her poem “Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears” in Japanese. For two minutes, you’re fully immersed in Kusama’s “LOVE IS CALLING,” a psychedelic mirrored “Infinity Room” she produced in 2013.

The installation, the artist’s largest mirrored room, opened to the public at PAMM last Thursday. It’s on view until February 2024. Guests who would like to see the installation have to request a ticket (at no additional cost) at the museum’s front desk. A handful of people are let inside the immersive room at a time.

“Now I think is the time to dedicate my heart to you, my dearest,” Kusama reads from her poem. “Was the beauty of the end of one’s life nothing more than an illusion? Would you give me an answer to this?”

It is the first time PAMM has ever displayed one of Kusama’s pieces, said associate curator Jennifer Inacio. PAMM had been in talks with ICA Boston to bring “LOVE IS CALLING” to Miami since 2019, she said.

“(We were) just thinking about our visitors and what they might be interested in — a fun, really exciting installation,” Inacio said. “And at a good moment too where everyone is coming back from the last three difficult years.”

Kusama, 93, is one of the world’s most recognizable and renowned living artists. Born in Matsumoto, Japan, in 1929, she studied formal Japanese painting techniques and built an international, decades-long career. Her work has been exhibited all over the world. In Miami, the Rubell Museum in Allapattah houses several Kusama pieces, including “Narcissus Garden,” a river of 700 mirrored stainless-steel spheres that flow down the museum’s hallway.

“We are thrilled to showcase ‘LOVE IS CALLING’ at Pérez Art Museum Miami, a perfect home for a work that connects people from all walks of life,” said PAMM Director Franklin Sirmans in a statement.

Kusama has been candid about her struggles with mental illness and how it is reflected in her artwork. In the ’70s, she voluntarily checked herself into a Tokyo psychiatric hospital, where she has lived ever since. Her repetitive motifs were inspired by hallucinations she experienced in childhood that made everything appear to be covered in patterns. Her signature polka dots represent the concept of infinity.

Today, the artist remains active in art and fashion and is largely considered to be a pop culture icon.

At last year’s Art Basel Miami Beach, visitors caught a glimpse of a life-size wax sculpture of Kusama at luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton’s booth. Kusama and Louis Vuitton have collaborated twice, first in 2012 and now again with a new collection. (The “LOVE IS CALLING” opening at PAMM comes just a week before Louis Vuitton uses the museum for an invite-only trunk show for its women’s spring-summer 2023 collection, according to Miami New Times.)

Kusama has been an influential force in the immersive art movement that arose in the ‘60s, Inacio said. She is the only female artist with an immersive artwork on display at PAMM. (The museum currently displays several Latin American male artists’ immersive artworks, like Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto’s blue outdoor sculpture and Argentine artist Leandro Erlich’s “Liminal” show.) Such an important female artist like Kusama deserves recognition at the museum, Inacio added.

Her “Infinity Rooms” are iconic in their own right. Since 1965, Kusama has produced more than 20 immersive mirrored rooms with rows of hanging lights, polka dot balloons, polka dot pumpkins and polka dot phallic objects. “LOVE IS CALLING” from 2013 was the last time Kusama made an “Infinity Room,” until recently. In May, she will debut a new mirror room during a solo show at David Zwirner gallery in New York City.

The rooms have gone viral on social media, popping up on Instagram and TikTok feeds for years. Since Kusama’s “Infinity Rooms” are mirrored, viewers are physically inserted into the artwork. You can’t take a photo of “LOVE IS CALLING” without taking a photo of yourself.

“Feeling like you can be a part of the art as opposed to just looking at the art on the wall, I think gives it this idea of accessibility,” Inacio said. “You can be it, you can be a part of it, you can be in it, as opposed to keeping a distance from it.”

Kusama’s work is very poetic, Inacio said. While immersed into the otherworldly installation, viewers may think about the meaning of love and their place in the universe.

“It’s very fun,” Inacio said. “It’s magical.”

Inacio suggested for visitors to resist the temptation to take a ton of photos, at least for 60 seconds. She recommended spending the first minute taking in the room and its illusion of endless space.

Before the show opened, Inacio said she was able to view the installation alone. The experience, which looked like she was floating by herself in space, was “mind blowing.” There’s something really existential about standing in a room of mirrors.

“It can become very sentimental,” Inacio said. “You’re thinking, ‘What does this mean? What part do I have in all of this? In the world, in love or in humanity?’ ”

So, let the exhibition touch your soul, she said. And then take lots of selfies.

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