At the Gallery : The AGO’s Exciting New Artwork by Yayoi Kusama

Simply saying that the touring exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s work “Infinity Mirrors”, which made a three-month long stop at the AGO in Toronto last spring, was a big success, would be quite an understatement. It was, in fact, a massive, enormous, humongous (I could go on) success, unlike anything the gallery had ever experienced before.

Tickets for Members of the gallery went up for sale nearly three months before the show was to begin. Even that far in advance, people had to sit online for hours, waiting for their number to come up, so they could secure their precious two tickets for the show. In one case, as reported in The Toronto Star, a person missed her chance when, after 18 hours of waiting, her cue to purchase finally came up at 3am — by then she’d understandably fallen asleep, so she missed out and then had to go back to the end of the line.

That’s how it was for Members, so nabbing a golden ticket was an extreme challenge for the regular folks who wanted to see the show. It has been reported that the gallery was asked by the police to stop selling tickets at their booth after they deemed it too difficult to control the crowds. So, ticket sales were relegated to online only.

Towards the end of the exhibition’s stay, the gallery began opening around the clock, in order to accommodate the demand. Suffice it to say that demand was extreme.

Toronto was not alone in showing its love for Kusama’s work — a quick search revealed that “Infinity Mirrors” was a record breaker at each of its five North American stops.

I can only imagine how happy this 90 year old artist must be right how. For her to be alive and able to witness the overwhelming appreciation for her work is not something to be taken for granted, considering that, at one point in her career she became so discouraged and overwhelmed by depression that she became suicidal. This state of mind was a result of the extreme sexism and racism that used to be the norm in the art-world. She has revealed that, during the 60s and 70s, even female dealers would not show interest in and feature the work of female artists. In addition, Kusama experienced at least three situations where male contemporaries, including Andy Warhol, obviously copied her work and went on to achieve great success with their pieces, while she remained largely ignored.

One example of this was the soft sculptures created by Claes Oldenburg after he’d seen Kusama was doing them. There was little doubt that he copied her idea, considering that his wife apologized to Kusama because of it. I find it interesting, and somewhat satisfying, that the AGO purchased Oldenburg’s “Floor Hamburger” (as seen in this photo — it is currently in storage) for $2,000 in 1967 and that they’ve now purchased a piece by Yayoi Kusama for over a million times more. Boom.

This brings me to the primary and exciting reason for today’s post — The AGO has acquired one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Rooms and it will be on permanent display at the gallery!

As described by AGO CEO Stephan Yost — following last year’s exhibition, he traveled to the Kusama studios in New York to discuss a possible acquisition of a piece of her work. She was very pleased with the response Toronto had given to the show, and was pleased to have one of her works permanently displayed in our gallery. As a result, the AGO has become one of fewer than twenty galleries in the world to have its own Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrored Room.

“Let’s Survive Forever” was created in 2017. It features mirrored walls, stainless steel spheres and a column with various hole into which viewers can peep.

The piece was purchased partially with money raised via a crowdfunding campaign, with 4,700 people contributing. The remaining amount came from the David Yuile & Mary Elizabeth Hodgson fund, generously donated by with is specific request that it be used for the acquisition of modern art. The stipulations of the fund allowed for the money to be used to buy one big piece if the opportunity ever arose, and so it did. Additionally, the installation is sponsored by the Japanese company Shiseido.

Donors to the Crowdfunding Campaign are invited to see it first, followed by Members’ viewings. Then, beginning on May 23rd, 2019, any visitor to the gallery will have a chance to enter this mind-boggling environment, with regular admission. People will be allowed into the room in groups of up to four people, for one minute at a time.

Line-ups are expected to be long for a while, however, I can envision a point in the future, when one will be able to walk up and enter this stunning space, as a normal part of any visit to our wonderful art gallery.

↑ The room is accessed through the lovely Galleria Italia, which is an addition to the gallery designed by famed architect Frank Gehry and revealed in 2008. I was told that the placement was intentional, meant to expose this stunning but “off-the-beaten-track” part of the gallery to more visitors. ↑

↑ AGO CEO Stephan Yost – “We’ve got a great artist here. Really, she’s the artist who stands and links minimalism, performance art, pop art and feminist art. One artist links all those movements and it’s Yayoi Kusama.

↑ Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, Adelina Vlas, played a large role in bringing the Kusama exhibition to the AGO last year, and in the acquisition of the new permanent installation. ↑

↑ The name of each of the 4,700 donors is listed in this carousel display. ↑

I’m not sure of the exact dimensions of the room, but estimate that it’s about 16 x 16 feet. Once you enter and the door is closed behind you, you become completely immersed within the space which appears to be never-ending. There are thousands of images of you, reflected from all angles. It’s an experience that you’ll never forget.

↑ I couldn’t keep the smile off my face when I was in there. Can’t wait to see it again! ↑

Please click here for the AGO’s site and details about seeing “Let’s Survive Forever”.

If you’d like to learn more about Yayoi Kusama before your visit, there is an excellent new documentary about the artist, including plenty of footage of her now, and throughout the years. It’s called “Kusama Infinity” and it’s streaming on Kanopy, the Toronto Library’s on-demand film platform, that is free to use for anyone with a Toronto Library card.

Thanks for reading, xo Loulou