Inside a darkened mirrored room illuminated only by the golden glow of small cylindrical lanterns, for half a minute, I disappeared.
The installation is called Infinity Mirrored Room — Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, and it's one of six infinity mirror experiences created by Yayoi Kusama currently on display at the Broad. The touring exhibition, “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” also features a collection of paintings and hand-sewn soft sculptures by the Japanese avant-garde artist; groovy historical photos and videos of her ’60s art actions; and The Obliteration Room, an all-white reproduction of a domestic space that is slowly “obliterated” by thousands of polka dot stickers placed throughout the room by visitors.
Kusama's obsession with “obliteration” is evident throughout the exhibit. Text on a gallery wall quotes Kusama as saying, “By obliterating one's individual self, one returns to the infinite universe.” The word “obliteration” has violent overtones; it's utter destruction, often by force. There's also a sense of permanence to the idea — is there any coming back from total obliteration?
In the case of Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, technically, yeah. Thirty seconds after the door to the chamber has been shut, a diligent museum employee with a stopwatch lets you know your time is up, and you're free to move on to the next thing — perhaps All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, a room filled with stylized, polka dot–covered gourds reflected into the distance until they're too tiny to be perceived. Same goes for the viewer's own reflection (which, I'll admit, made me feel self-conscious at least a handful of times — you can't really look around yourself or avoid undesirable angles).
But in Aftermath, the viewer is little more than a darkened figure standing at the end of a black catwalk absolutely surrounded by twinkling lights and more iterations of the darkened figure. At the risk of sounding new agey, suddenly you are no one in particular but you're part of everything, and the experience is extremely therapeutic. The Broad is having a hard enough time keeping up with high demand, but I imagine people would spend a good chunk of change for an hourlong meditation in this room.
“For Kusama, obliteration is a reflection on the experience of death and the potential of afterlife,” the explanatory text reads — “reflection” pun intended, I assume. It continues, “Kusama's poetic installation underscores the impermanence of life and the certitude of death.” It's sort of ironic that an exhibit that's about to be selfied to death is all about obliterating the self. If there's one room in which people could be recommended to keep their phones in their pockets, it's probably this one.
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” The Broad, 221 S. Grand Ave., downtown; through Jan. 1; a limited number of same-day, on-site $30 tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis each day that the exhibition is open. thebroad.org.