Sunday, March 5, 2017
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
When: through May 14, 2017
So I signed up for the Hirshhorn newsletter and got a ticket to see the Kusama exhibit as soon as I got the email and as fast as my fingers could click on the link, and last week I went to see it.
Frankly, it's hard to decide what I think about this show. I find that my experience of going to see it colors so much of my opinion that it's hard to determine what I really think about the art itself. I've tried to imagine what I would think if this had been just another Hirshhorn show: walk in, walk through the exhibit and leave, but it's such a "phenomenon" that it's hard to do that.
I think I also feel sort of guilty criticizing the work of a mentally ill person, as if I'm just piling on, adding to the misery of her life. But then I remember that 1) when you put your art on display, you have to be prepared for whatever reactions to it come back, 2) the rest of the world seems to think she's an absolute genius, and the show has been praised high and low and 3) she's never going to read this blog post anyway. So here goes:
Kusama does work in a variety of media: sculpture, video, performance art, paintings and immersive rooms. The rooms are the big deal; the other stuff is basically what you look at to pass the time while you wait to get into a room. And you know what phrase has been going through my head since I saw this show? One trick pony. Each room is really a big box. Her art (pumpkins, penis-shaped sculpture, etc.) are on the floor, and the rest of the box is mirrors - sides and ceiling. So the art is multiplied in all directions, along with you and whoever else is in the box with you. Okay, I don't usually stand in a mirror box as part of my daily life, so it was different. But if you've done that once, it's just the same thing over and over again, with different art. There are also some boxes that you just put your face in to look at - there are lines for those as well. Again, it's a mirror effect.
At the end of the show, you go into a totally white room - everything is white: walls, floor, and all the objects in the room. A guard gives you some brightly colored stickers, and you put them wherever you want in the room. The idea is that, by the end of the show, the room will be covered with dots (which, along with the pumpkins and penis-shaped sculptures, is a big part of Kusama's art). That was kind of fun.
If you decide to go, here is some advice:
1. Go during the week. The lines for each box were impossibly long on a mid-day Friday; I can't imagine how long the wait would be on the weekend.
2. Go as early in the day as you possibly can. I went at noon, and things were already nuts. If I had to do it over again, I'd get tickets for the first time available.
3. Realize you'll be standing in line for a LONG time. You get about 20 seconds in a box, but you easily wait 30 minutes to get to the front of the line. And there are a lot of lines just to get into the line for the first box. I waited in a line outside to enter the museum, then in a line to enter the exhibit, then in a line for each box I entered (I went into three of them - there were some I missed, but life is short).
4. Bring something to do while you wait. This could be a book, a phone, a friend, but you will need a distraction from the prospect of spending upwards of three hours at the Hirshhorn, to spend about ten minutes actually seeing the art.
5. If you don't like crowds, don't go. I chatted briefly with a guard while I was waiting to go into a box, and I quipped that there were more people in the exhibit at that moment then all of the people I'd ever seen at the Hirshhorn in all of my previous visits. She said they are expecting to have more visitors in the 12 weeks the show is on than in a usual four year span.
The big winner in all of this is the Hirshhorn. People have been joining as members (for $250, to get tickets that let you jump the line) in such numbers that the website says they are at member capacity! They have taken in so much money that they don't have the ability to take in any more! You can (or at least you could when I visited) also buy a $50 ticket that doesn't give you membership, but let's you jump the line in the show (maybe it's just one line). No idea if that's still going on.
Whoever got this show and has been promoting it as the "must see" event of 2017 is a genius. Prior to this, all the news about the Hirshhorn was bad. Their bubble was a bust; they fired a bunch of docents for being too old; there was some sort of leadership controversy that I can't remember the details of now. All this is forgotten - the Hirshhorn is the darling of the DC art scene; they've got a show that's a license to print money.
Verdict: The mirrors are doing the heavy lifting in this show that's more about the event than the art.