New Yorkers are no strangers to long line. Go to any hot/trendy restaurant, cocktail lounge, or club and there’ll be a long wait to get in. The long wait extends to cultural events as well. The retrospective on Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty had lines that snaked through the Met. Some clever developers took advantage of this and developed a little app game that you could play as you waited. In each room, the app gave to hints and clues to questions, you looked around the room to answer the questions. Another exhibit with a long line was MOMA’s Rain Room installation last year. I waited three hours to get in and experience two minutes of the cool dark interior of the Rain Room. Three hours for two minutes? Yes, it was worth it.
Usually I’m the one in a group with the fortitude to wait for such excessive lengths of time, but last week, thanks to the generosity of a good friend, I got to skip a majority of the wait in the cold. He posted on Facebook in the middle of the night that he was going to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room with his girlfriend and anyone who was interested was welcome to join them. They were in line since 7:30 am and the exhibit opened at 10 am.
I saw my friend’s message when I woke up. I was scheduled to work from home that day, which meant that I had a flexible work day. I texted him to see if they were in fact in line (they were) and I let them know that I would be there at 9:30. Because they were there so early (the people first in line were there from 6:30 am), there were only six people in front of them. When I arrived, the line went all the way down the block and worked its way back up. A food truck parked in front of the line was doing very good business selling hot coffee and tea to freezing visitors. At 10, the David Zwirner Gallery opened and we were in the first group allowed in the waiting room.
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist. Her style is abstract expressionism with a predilection for polka dots. Her exhibition I Who Have Arrived in Heaven, consists of “Infinity Mirrored Room — The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” (aka Infinity Room), “Love is Calling” (aka tentacle room), and “Manhattan Suicide Addict,” a video of her reciting Japanese poems. The Infinity Room is a small room with 75 LED lights and mirrors. One or two people are allowed in at a time and you have 20 seconds. The room is dark. The floor is filled with water and you stand on a small platform. Alone, you see multiple versions of you extending out forever, hence Infinity Room.
When I was in the room, it was a surreal ephemeral experience. It felt like I was floating. I could see me, copies of me, hundreds and hundreds of me stretching on forever. The slowly changing lights added to the experience of change and things still being the same because you noticed that there was a pattern to how they changed.
After that room, we moved onto the Tentacle Room. We had to exit in order to go see it. In the 15 minutes minutes that we were in the gallery (waiting and then inside the Infinity Room), the line exploded. Now swarms of people overflowed onto the street. The line for the Tentacle Room was much shorter. We simply had to wait for the people inside to get out and then it was our turn. In this room, a small group of people go in and you’re allowed to stay in for about a minute.
Kusama is often inspired by her mental illness and her experimentation with illicit drugs. This piece of installation art gives you a window into her vision. Large colored blobby tentacles grew from the floors and ceilings. They were of different shapes and sizes. Unlike the Infinity Room where you were restricted to staying on a platform, we could stroll around the tentacles.
The last piece was a large video installation of Kusama reciting Japanese poems. Again there were mirrors on the side walls, so it appeared as if the large wall-sized video screen continued on forever. We stayed for a few minutes to listen to poems and read the subtitles.
I was grateful to have had this chance to see I Who Have Arrived in Heaven before it closed. And even more grateful that I didn’t have to wait out in the cold for several hours. Thank goodness for good friends who let you know about cool things happening in the city and for waiting in line for you.