I haven’t been to a local museum in a long time. Yayoi Kusama’s is a first in months. As the museum towers into sight while we walked over from the bus stop, I was reminded of the architecture of the museums I saw in UK. There were people with orange stickers streaming out at a rate surprising for a local museum at 4 in the afternoon. On a Tuesday.
We expected a queue after hearing from friends who had been to the exhibition before. We were not surprised to see it as we descended stairs to the ticketing area. Thankfully, one of the staff told us there was an alternative counter for locals to purchase tickets to Kusama’s exhibition.
Bad news; tickets were sold out until six and we had to return to the office by then. But luck was on our side. The kind staff David and Maznah were understanding and got us tickets for 4pm admission and we were immensely grateful.
An usher tells us we can only be admitted into each gallery once.
Our adventure begins.
The gallery opens with Infinity Nets, faintly reminiscent of dot painting during arts and crafts. An iconic style of hers, the paintings were first exhibited in New York in 1959. The works were initially in monochrome, but grew to encompass more colours in incompatibly mesmerising shades. The kind where if you stare long enough, the ‘nets’ seem to move and sometimes make you feel slightly overwhelmed. Like an optical illusion. Her take on a Venus sculpture in a bee-like yellow and black colour scheme is an example.
There was a room featuring the exhibition titled The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens with the same colour scheme as Venus. The pumpkin is Kusama’s favourite motif, and in this room are mirrors to give the illusion of infinite pumpkins above and under you. We didn’t queue to enter the room since we didn’t see the need to. You can just peep into the room from outside. We overheard a child remarking to his parent, “that looks like a cheese room.”
As we exit Gallery A to move to Gallery B, we were greeted by 2 sculptures of sorts of the speckled pumpkin consisting of reflective coloured tiles. Pumpkins comfort Kusama, whose family owns a nursery which grew the vegetable.
Gallery B consists of the themes mirrors and infinity, as well as sex obsessions.
The first room features round reflective ‘mirrors’ on walls and ceilings like a semi-claustrophobic maze. Each mirror resembles those traffic convex mirrors in car parks.
Past the ‘maze’ into the main gallery space, we see trays of sweet potatoes covered in metallic sheen. Or so we thought were sweet potatoes. In this segment of the exhibition, Kusama seeks to evoke the phallic image but softened, as her way of fighting against masculine power and presence. She makes many soft sculptures using domestic items sewn by hand with skills learned from her time at a factory.
Another highlight that you might have seen on your friends’ Instagram feeds is the Infinity Mirrored Room. A kaleidoscopic room with dazzling lights and mirrors, you’ll feel as if you were suspended in a galaxy of stars. It was 2-4 pax for 30 seconds in the room for us, but the timing varies depending on the queue length at that point in time.
There is a video installation featuring the artist herself singing a song she wrote. Titled Song of a Manhattan Suicide Addict, Kusama sings about her experience with depression and also her motivation to creating art in the first place.
This gallery features her extensive canvas work including Love Forever in monochrome and vibrant colours in My Eternal Soul. 500 paintings and counting, only a handful is featured in this exhibition. Her happy thoughts and fear of emptiness are reflected in her canvas works.
There is also a famous polka dotted tulip installation which stems from her hallucinations, and the concept of self-obliteration with tulips blending into white.
The final installation we went to was the Narcissus Garden. The former word represented by the numerous shiny balls reflecting the world in distortions, and the latter because of the how these balls are arranged and fill the room. Picture worthy?
An exhibition hosted by the National Gallery at city hall, it is open to public from 9 June to 3 September this year. Tickets start at $10 for Singaporean/PRs and $20 for non-Singaporeans, but students and teachers locally based and persons with disabilities get free entry. Tickets go by time-slots, so we recommend booking them in advance at their website to get your preferred timing and skip the queue.