Mirror on the Mall
Two years and a hundred volunteers later, the Hirshhorn reflects on the ethereal work
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
Larissa Raddell hangs pictures for the “Obliteration Room” installation for the Kusama interactive exhibition.
From left: Briana Feston-Brunet, Matt McMullen, Larissa Raddell and Nick Peelor install “Flower Overcoat.”