Yayoi Kusama’s EVERY DAY I PRAY FOR LOVE is on view at David Zwirner Gallery until December 14th.
By Aharon Nissel
“What exactly is Kusama trying to do here?” That’s the question I kept asking myself as I walked through the new Yayoi Kusama art show that opened last week at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea, Manhattan.
The show, curiously titled “EVERY DAY I PRAY FOR LOVE,” features a body of all new works, including a new Infinity Room, perhaps the artist’s best-known installations (if only for the selfie value, but we’ll get back to that later). The Zwirner Gallery expects 100,000 people to visit the gallery in the 31 days it’s open. This is an increase from the 2017 Kusama show, which attracted 75,000 visitors. Viewers expecting to see the new Infinity Room have been waiting up to four hours outside!
The show is fairly standard Kusama but muted. It seems clear that the Zwirner Gallery, which has represented Kusama since 2013, is trying to squeeze as much as they can out of the 90-year old woman. Take, for example, the collection of 42 unique paintings from the artist’s ongoing series, entitled My Eternal Soul. These paintings, all of which are squares with each side measuring exactly 100.3 centimeters, are arranged on a single wall in three long rows of 14 paintings. This seems impressive, and no doubt, it is, but last year’s gallery featured 66 paintings in the series, arranged on three walls. While there certainly is a dramatic effect walking into the room and being overwhelmed by a wall covered in paintings, its somewhat less overwhelming than walking into a room with paintings covering three of the walls.
The paintings themselves are phenomenally impressive. The incredibly detailed paintings feature amoebic and cellular forms in varying bold colors, floating through a vast unending infinity. They contrast the minutest details of the human body with the massive scale of the universe and ask the viewer to consider our place in it. Each painting has an individual title, such as The Beauty of Millions of Love Seekers Flying to the Universe and I Would Like to Show you the Infinite Splendor of Stardust in the Universe. The titles make sense given the overall themes of the series, but it’s hard to see exactly how each title aligns with the painting it is meant to describe. While each of the paintings are unique and meaningful, the My Eternal Soul series is starting to get somewhat boring. The series now features over 200 paintings.
In an excellent curatorial choice, the first of two stand-out pieces, the shapes and forms of the paintings are echoed on the floor on the opposite side of the room in Cloud, a collection of stainless steel mercurial blobs on the floor. The reflective surfaces force the viewer to face a distorted view of themselves and their own egos. This work obviously plays off of the artist’s earlier work with reflective steel balls, specifically Narcissus Garden, which the artist unofficially exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1966. This work is perhaps the only example where a Kusama work is rehashed in a new and complex way.
The other stand out piece is Ladder to Heaven, a ladder constructed from neon bars caged in a honeycomb aluminum and placed between two mirrors, one on the ceiling, the other on the floor. The effect is a ladder that seems to go on forever in either direction. Here, again, she is focusing on themes of the infinity of the universe and seeming insignificance of the humans on the ladder that is that universe.
The show also features a new Infinity Room, but this one feels lame compared to some previous ones which featured hand-painted pumpkins or hand-sewn polka-dot phalli. The 2017 show featured two Infinity Rooms. This one merely features round hanging lights which light up, subsequently change from white to red light, and then go out, leaving the viewer in pitch darkness. The effect is incredible and this installation is obviously meant to deal with the same questions about the universe as the others. Viewers enter the room in groups of four – meaning even after waiting hours online, you get just sixty seconds in the room with up to three people you don’t even know before being ushered out.
The rest of the exhibit, a selection of sculptures (some on the floor, some wall hangings), and several additional paintings don’t really excite the viewer. They feel like somewhat of an afterthought, located in a small room on the second floor of the gallery.
And so, while the new Kusama show has some pieces that really stand out, most of the work seems to be a reuse of old ideas, but not expressed in any new or complex iterations. The gallery seems almost half-hearted. And so back to my original question: “What exactly is Kusama trying to do here?” It seems Kusama is trying to share her work with the world. She is trying to share the joy and happiness that she finds in a deep, dark, infinite cosmos.
But the real question remains: “What is David Zwirner doing and just how ‘new’ is this body of ‘new works?’”