When you look into Infinity Mirrors, does Infinity look back?

A couple of years ago, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors took Toronto by storm. To say that tix to this show were hard to come by is an understatement. I had access to an AGO Members pre-sale and I still had to sit online from 10 AM – 3 PM before I was able to get tix. People were lining up around the block every day hoping to get same-day tickets.

When the day finally came and I finally got to see the exhibit, I was – in a word – underwhelmed.

That’s not how I was expecting to react. Many people I know had seen Infinity Mirrors, raved about it and couldn’t wait to see it again.

Was this a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where everyone raves about an exhibit that just isn’t very good simply because there’s been so much hype over it? Or was everyone else seeing something I wasn’t? Was there some essential element that I just wasn’t grasping? I thought about contacting my friends who raved about it to see what they loved so much, but I couldn’t think of a way to do it without coming across as a jerk. Because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s someone who disparages other people’s enjoyment of something simply because they don’t like it.

So what happened? I knew what to expect going into it. The AGO emailed us ahead of time with the rules of the exhibit – no more than 20-30 seconds per room and we could expect line-ups of 15-20 minutes for each room. Knowing that ahead of time and experiencing it at the exhibit turned out to be a very different thing, at least for me.

The rooms themselves were beautiful. I wanted to spend forever in them, marvelling at how the reflections went on forever, at how some of the rooms created the illusion that I was floating in space. Instead, my eyes had barely adjusted to the darkness before I was rushed out. The lineups to get in were noisy and crowded and they were packed in so close that when I got into the rooms, the noise from outside really intruded on the experience.

My reaction to Infinity Mirrors caused me to do a lot of thinking. I ended up learning a lot about what matters to me when it comes to experiencing art. I really don’t like to be rushed. I have no problem with an artist dictating how they want their art to be experience – it’s their work, after all – but ideally, the experience should support the art. At first I blamed the AGO, thinking that they were trying to get as many people through as possible before the exhibit closed.

Then the AGO got a permanent Infinity Mirror installation and the same rules applied, except you’re now allowed to stay inside for a whopping one minute.  I have to assume that this is how Yayoi Kusama wants people to experience the rooms. And to be honest, I’m baffled. Why would you want to rush people through experiencing your art? Why would you not want people to linger, fully absorb it, fall in love with it?

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