Yayoi Kusama: The Moving Moment When I Went To The Universe

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Joy is the key word at this new exhibition from an artist at the height of her powers

Step through a curtain and into a magical world. Great spheres of varying sizes seem to float around you; in fact you seem to be floating yourself. Initially discombobulating, it’s easy to get thrown off balance as your eyes adjust to the darkness and the multi-coloured lights, stretching on and on, multiplied infinitely around you in every direction. It is simply stunning.

This is Yayoi Kusama’s immersive installation MY HEART IS DANCING INTO THE UNIVERSE, and it’s easy to see where it got its name. The Infinity Mirrored Room is just one part of the major exhibition of new work by Kusama at the Victoria Miro gallery, and it is certain to be one of the most popular.

Although there may be a temptation to dismiss the piece as Instagram-bait (and by God it’s Instagrammable), there is no denying that this is powerful and meaningful work, evoking the initial terror of a vast, ever-expanding universe and then slowly reconciling the viewer towards acceptance of its boundless nature and enjoyment of its strange beauty.

Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM - MY HEART IS DANCING INTO THE UNIVERSE, 2018, Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. © YAYOI KUSAMA

The repetition of the circles and the soft colour changes give the installation an calm atmosphere despite its psychedelic nature: it would be extremely tempting to lie down watch the colours fade in and out for hours, but as tickets to the exhibition are timed, no doubt as a direct consequence of the popularity of this one piece, visitors will have to make do with just a few minutes. Happily, only three people will be allowed in the room at once, meaning guests will be able to take in the room as it should be: intimately, quietly and with a huge sense of wonder and joy.

Yayoi Kusama FLOWERS THAT SPEAK ALL ABOUT MY HEART GIVEN TO THE SKY, 2018, Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. © YAYOI KUSAMA

Joy is the key word for this exhibition, which is an exemplary illustration of why art can - and should - be fun. The waterside garden, where three of Kusama’s large-scale flower sculptures are displayed, is a particular highlight. It is an intuitive choice of setting for the painted bronze sculptures, which sit boldly next to natural grass and trees. The sculptures are incredibly joyful to take in, particularly in the natural setting, and are evocative of the artist’s previous embellishment of nature in ASCENSION OF POLKA DOTS IN THE TREES. The gallery, however, is certainly going to have their hands full on Saturdays when younger guests get the chance to visit; the flowers are almost irresistibly climbable.

Yayoi Kusama, PUMPKIN, 2018, Victoria Miro, London/Venice. © YAYOI KUSAMA

Kusama has been painting flowers and pumpkins since the very beginning of her artistic career; she began painting after experiencing hallucinations in which a pumpkin spoke to her. This richness of vision is clear in the huge, bulbous sculptures and vivid paintings, as the depictions of pumpkins in Gallery I seem to pop out the wall and become three-dimensional themselves; they are dizzying. The level of detail in Kusama’s work is exquisite, so it’s just as pleasurable to admire it with your nose carefully poised some centimetres from the canvas as it is from a few feet away.

Yayoi Kusama, Installation view, THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE, Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai and Victoria Miro, London/Venice. © YAYOI KUSAMA

Gallery II, located past the waterside garden, contains paintings from Kusama’s ongoing My Eternal Soul series. The paintings are collated almost entirely across one wall creating an interesting tiling effect. They are bursting with symbolism; HYMN OF LIFE contains shapes that look like faces and are simultaneously reminiscent of bacteria and cells under a microscope, reminding us of the circular nature of life and of our physical environment. Like the infinity room, these paintings also feel immersive; the bright colours and shapes encourage the viewer to actively explore and experience them.

Many people will be drawn to this exhibition due to the fascination with the personal details of Kusama’s life; her years in New York as a famed pop artist, her unusual romantic life and most of all her decision to live in a psychiatric hospital for the past 40 years of her life. What they will find is evidence of an artist at the height of her powers: particularly, the power to create joy.

Yayoi Kusama: The Moving Moment When I Went to the Universe is at the Victoria Miro until 21 December