Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirrors’ opens Sunday as Cleveland becomes contemporary art hub
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The wildly popular Yayoi Kusama “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition has tested all four museums it has visited so far on a two-year, six-city tour.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, where the highly anticipated show begins Sunday, will be no different. ′
In addition to viewing more or less conventional sculptures, paintings and drawings, visitors queue up for quick dips inside Kusama’s mirror rooms, which offer endless reflections of colored lights and polka-dotted phalluses, balloons and pumpkins.
Visitors will only get 30 seconds a pop in each room — an interval determined by the host museum and the artist’s studio as a way to maximize the number of people who can see the show, without creating an experience that’s so brief as to be pointless.
Coming Sunday in The Plain Dealer and on cleveland.com:A review of Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors.″A complete guide to Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art.
Most visitors take time to grab a selfie or two before peering momentarily into reflections that approximate what it must be like to stand in the middle of the Milky Way, or the opening credits of a “Star Wars” film.
Then there’s a polite knock on the door and an attendant says it’s time for the next group of three or four people to have a chance.
Pulsing people with timed ticket entries through the exhibition in a controlled manner means organizing the exhibition layout like a security line at an airport, or queuing space at an amusement park.
It also requires a lot of manpower.
“In an installation like this, it takes 30 people to run it,” said Jeffrey Strean, the museum’s director of architecture and design.
“It’s like Cedar Point, where you have people lowering the bar on the ride before you go through it,” he said. “We have people manning each one of these [six] rooms to make sure they’re in and out in 30 seconds.”
Elizabeth Bolander, director of audience insights and services at the museum, said the institution had hired scores of temporary gallery attendants.
“We were looking for people who are very friendly, who are calm under pressure,” she said.
How to get tickets
The Kusama show runs through Sept. 30.
General admission tickets ($30 for adults, $15 for children 6-17), will be on sale through the run of the show, but only online or over the phone.
Go to clevelandart.org/Kusama or call 216-421-7350.
The Cleveland Museum of Art is in University Circle, 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland.
The museum doesn’t want visitors camping out every day to get same-day tickets, as they have at other venues, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the previous stop on the tour.
“Not everyone might have the opportunity to start waiting at 3, 4, or 5 a.m. for advance tickets,” Bolander said.
The museum has sold more than 50,000 tickets so far, but it expects total attendance will be over 100,000 for the show, so plenty remain.
Sales of remaining tickets will be held every Monday at 9 a.m., starting July 16.
On July 16 only, the museum will sell tickets for all remaining weeks of the show, the museum announced Thursday.
Bolander said the museum is taking these steps because few tickets are available for July.
On every other Monday after July 16, tickets will only be sold for the following Tuesday through Sunday.
With Front, Cleveland becomes a contemporary art hub
The Kusama run at the museum coincides with the Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, the biggest regional exhibition on new art in the history of Northeast Ohio.
Front, opening July 14 through Sept. 30, will be on view at 18 museums and institutions in Cleveland, Akron and Oberlin, plus outdoor spaces. It includes work by 116 artists from around the world, including a dozen from Northeast Ohio.
The Cleveland Museum of Art is devoting three of its major temporary exhibition galleries and other spaces to Front artists.
Installing Kusama and Front on time, without hitches, has been a six-week process, said Reto Thuring, the museum’s curator of contemporary art.
The overlapping shows mark the first time in the museum’s recent history — and perhaps its entire 102 years — that nearly all of its temporary exhibition galleries have been devoted to contemporary art.
“At this moment, contemporary art has a presence that it probably has never had before” at the museum, Thuring said.
That’s significant because Cleveland — and its biggest art museum — have been culturally conservative until recently.
The museum’s new emphasis on contemporary art “certainly helps heighten the awareness of what art in our time can do, and what it can offer to a very broad range of people,” Thuring said.
The Kusama show, which has visited museums in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Seattle and Toronto so far, has been such a hit in part because so many viewers share pictures of the exhibition on social media.
Kusama’s audience, in essence, is multiplying her impact every bit as much as the mirrors in her infinity rooms.
“People become conspirators in helping her realize her artistic vision,” Thuring said.