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GOMA trumps The Broad when it comes to experiencing Kusama

Gina Fairley

90,000 tickets sold out within hours to The Broad’s LA Kusama exhibition, while Queensland’s GOMA delivers its show free and without timed visits.
GOMA trumps The Broad when it comes to experiencing Kusama

The selfie moment has become part of the artwork: viewing Yayoi Kusama's exhibition at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art. Photo: ArtsHub

It is a big year for Yayoi Kusama fans. On 21 October, an exhibition of her infinity mirror works opened at Los Angeles' newest museum, The Broad, with 90,000 tickets sold out within a few hours. 

The timed, ticketed visits not only control entry to the exhibition, but impose a 30-second “selfie rule” that ensure viewers keep moving through the space.


‘All 90,000 of the Broad’s US$25 advance tickets sold out within hours in September and lines are expected to wrap around the block for standby tickets, which cost $30,’ reported Artnet.

In contrast, Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) is offering free admission to its Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition, Life is the heart of a rainbow, which opened on 4 November – just two week’s after the LA show was unveiled. 

Read: Review of Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow

Also unlike the touring American exhibition, which will be presented across six venues from 2017-2019, the Brisbane exhibition adds to a string of Australian exclusives pulled off by GOMA. Another is their concurrent Gerhard Richter exhibition.

Read: Gerhard Richter – The life of images

A curious piece of serendipity regarding the concurrent American-Australian shows: Kusama's first US retrospective was held at the Centre for International Contemporary Arts in New York in 1989, the same year her work was shown in Australia for the first time in the exhibition, Japanese Ways, Western Means at the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.

On the first stop of the US tour, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, saw the institution’s average spring attendance double to a record 475,000 visitors.

It is not surprising given that in 2014, The Art Newspaper named Kusama ‘the most popular artist in the world’ in their annual museum and galleries survey, outranking male artists who dominated exhibitions globally at 73%.

GOMA is equally expecting record numbers.

Kusama's work is almost tailor-made for the digital age, eye candy for social media and selfies... but GOMA's exhibition adds weight to the popular recipe. Photo: ArtsHub.

Selfie-friendly art can be good art too

Artnet makes the claim that there are two things closely associated with the superstar Japanese artist – pumpkins and selfies.

Within days of the American exhibition being launched at the Hirshhorn Museum (23 February), one of Kusama’s immersive installations had been damaged by an over zealous selfie-taker.

The accident took place in the artist's infinity room, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016), when a visitor lost their footing while “focused” elsewhere. The damaged was described as ‘minor’ by the gallery.

At the Broad, photography was not allowed inside this work, which features more than 60 yellow acrylic pumpkins with stripes of black polka dots and lit from within by LED lights. It is displayed on a floor of black glass.

Invigilators were in force at GOMA to reduce the risk of such accidents, and while lines did form at Kusama’s immersive installations, they were manageable. Actually the gallery even created a separate entrance for the highly popular installation Infinity Mirrored Room – Gleaming Lights of the Souls (2008), so as not to clutter or disturb the experience of viewing other works in the exhibition.

In contrast the American exhibition experience has been thus described: ‘Visitors can expect to be funnelled through the exhibition – once you leave a room, you must continue forward, to the next line for the next artwork.’

GOMA's exhibition had lots of entry and exit points, and while there was a central spine that corralled visitors through the exhibition, it also presented plenty of side diversions and eddies of interest that effectively dispersed crowds across this popular show.

At The Broad, the grand finale was The Obliteration Room (2002-present), an interactive domestic space that viewers get to cover with colour polka dots. This iconic piece was developed in collaboration between Kusama and the Queensland Art Gallery for the 2002 Asia Pacific Triennial, and entered the collection in 2012.

It is fabulous that it is recreated in the American tour carrying GOMA’s name. GOMA confirmed that over five million people have experienced the installation in its various presentations across 21 venues in 15 countries since 2002. It is also part of the Brisbane exhibition.

Enjoying The Obliteration Room (2002-present) at GOMA. Photo: Artshub.

Overall, the content of both exhibitions is relatively similar, the Brisbane show perhaps offering a greater weight towards Kusama’s early career with paintings as early as the mid 1950s. Co-curator Reuben Keehan told ArtsHub that it offered insights into how Kusama’s work is read in Japan, compared to the better known narratives constructed by international curators in the West.

For most however, the joy is in sharing the exhibition – aka snapping yourself coordinated with Kusama’s dots and mirrors and posting the photo on social media.

Momentum and market

Kusama’s New York gallerist is not missing out on the current spotlight. David Zwirner is capitalising on the moment, unveiling two major concurrent exhibitions of recent work by Kusama across three gallery spaces in New York: Festival of Life at 525 and 533 West 19th Street in Chelsea and Infinity Nets at the recently opened space on 34 East 69th Street on the Upper East Side, showing 2 November – 16 December.

Zwirner's site promotes: ‘The exhibitions will feature sixty-six paintings from [Kusama's] iconic My Eternal Soul series, new large-scale flower sculptures, a polka-dotted environment, and two Infinity Mirror Rooms in the Chelsea locations, and a selection of new Infinity Nets paintings uptown.' 

So you can love your Kusama, snap your Kusama and buy your Kusama too – engagement at every economic level.

Yayoi Kusama: Life is the heart of a Rainbow is showing at Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 4 November 2017 until 11 February 2018.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is on view at The Broad in Los Angeles, 21 October 2017 – 1 January 2018.

About the author

Gina Fairley covers the Visual Arts nationally for ArtsHub. Based in Sydney you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.