Mir­ror on the Mall

Two years and a hun­dred vol­un­teers later, the Hir­sh­horn re­flects on the ethe­real work

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS & STYLE - BY PEGGY MCGLONE

The Hir­sh­horn Mu­seum and Sculp­ture Gar­den spent two years pre­par­ing to give vis­i­tors about 20 sec­onds of wow. “Yayoi Kusama: In­fin­ity Mir­rors” in­vites vis­i­tors to con­sider their place in the uni­verse by im­mers­ing them­selves in the Ja­panese artist’s whim­si­cal and ethe­real in­stal­la­tions.

The ephemeral na­ture of the ex­hi­bi­tion’s mir­ror rooms — the en­clo­sures that seem si­mul­ta­ne­ously cos­mo­log­i­cal and kitschy — be­lies the painstak­ingly de­tailed work re­quired to host it. From con­struct­ing the con­cep­tual art­works to con­trol­ling the crowds, the Smith­so­nian’s mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art mu­seum has stretched its staff and bud­get for the ex­hi­bi­tion’s 12week run.

“The Kusama show is the cul­mi­na­tion of two years of hard work that has not been vis­i­ble,” said Hir­sh­horn di­rec­tor Melissa Chiu.

The Hir­sh­horn hired staff, re­cruited and trained vol­un­teers, and pur­chased dozens of roped stan­chions to cor­ral the crowds. The mu­seum in­tro­duced timed passes to con­trol an­tic­i­pated crowds, brought Dol­cezza Ge­latto and Cof­fee to its court­yard for re­fresh­ments and of­fered au­dio guides for the show, which runs through May 14.

“A great deal of our think­ing was about the or­ches­tra­tion of the vis­i­tor through the build­ing,” Chiu said. “What’s the op­ti­mal en­gage­ment with this ex­hi­bi­tion, how can we make it mean­ing­ful and com­pelling?”

De­spite the plan­ning, open­ing week­end was chaotic. Even with timed passes, hun­dreds of vis­i­tors waited hours to get into the gallery dur­ing its first week­end; many com­plained they had only a few sec­onds to ex­pe­ri­ence the rooms and of­ten were forced to en­ter with strangers. There was more wait­ing than ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, they said.

Hir­sh­horn of­fi­cials are try­ing to adapt, and they ex­pect th­ese early dif­fi­cul­ties to be re­solved. “It is a de­mand­ing show to ex­e­cute on,” Chiu said. “This is a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for us.”

A ‘com­mu­nal ex­pe­ri­ence’

The ex­hi­bi­tion’s cen­ter­pieces the six mir­ror rooms and the “Oblit­er­a­tion Room,” in­stal­la­tions that are im­mer­sive and par­tic­i­pa­tory. Each room comes with an in­struc­tional man­ual that ex­plains the tech­nol­ogy re­quired — from glass mir­rors to LED lights — to cre­ate th­ese al­ter­nate re­al­i­ties. The Hir­sh­horn’s crew of 15 in­stall­ers worked for six weeks on the show, about three times the nor­mal in­stal­la­tion pe­riod.

Art in­staller Larissa Rad­dell be­gan col­lect­ing items last fall for the all-white “Oblit­er­a­tion Room,” the ex­hi­bi­tion’s fi­nal in­stal­la­tion. Work­ing with as­so­ciate cu­ra­tor Mika Yoshi­take, Rad­dell se­lected hun­dreds of items re­quired to cre­ate the do­mes­tic space at the founare da­tion of the piece. Vis­i­tors are given a sheet of ad­he­sive dots, which they ap­ply to the white sur­face, oblit­er­at­ing the same­ness with bursts of red, pink, or­ange and green. The mu­seum printed 750,000 polka dots for the piece.

“This cre­ates a kind of com­mu­nal ex­pe­ri­ence,” Yoshi­take said. “It’s about trans­for­ma­tion, about rev­e­la­tion.”

Along with fur­ni­ture and house­wares do­nated by Ikea in Col­lege Park, Md., Rad­dell sought pieces from the Hir­sh­horn staff to fill the space. They re­sponded with ev­ery­thing from books and DVDs to a piano and a globe. Ev­ery­thing was primed, painted the same white — even the white

Vis­i­tor Lyn­ley Ogilvie pastes stick­ers in the “Oblit­er­a­tion Room” in the ex­hi­bi­tion “Yayoi Kusama: In­fin­ity Mir­rors,” an in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tion at the Hir­sh­horn Mu­seum and Sculp­ture Gar­den. The ephemeral na­ture of the

BILL O’LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Larissa Rad­dell hangs pic­tures for the “Oblit­er­a­tion Room” in­stal­la­tion for the Kusama in­ter­ac­tive ex­hi­bi­tion.

BILL O’LEARY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

From left: Bri­ana Fe­ston-Brunet, Matt McMullen, Larissa Rad­dell and Nick Peelor in­stall “Flower Over­coat.”

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