Once the haunt of the avant-garde, installation art has matured into a 21st-century mass-culture phenomenon. There is no better evidence of this evolution than the immense popularity of Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored “infinity rooms.” The David Zwirner gallery expects upward of 100,000 people for her New York exhibition, “Every Day I Pray for Love,” which includes a new infinity room, Dancing Lights That Flew Up to the Universe. Such popularity comes as no surprise once you’ve stepped from the pallor of a traditional art gallery into the magically glowing, impossibly endless space of a Kusama installation. Visitors enter with openmouthed joy and leave with loopy, blissed-out smiles. But despite all the humor in these rooms, Kusama’s personal history suggests deeper undercurrents flowing through her work. What’s going on here?
Born in Japan and now 90 years old, Kusama is a daughter of New York’s Pop and psychedelic eras. She was in the thick of things in the 1960s, palling around with Donald Judd and arguing with Andy Warhol. Yet her bohemian bonhomie masked an emotional turmoil that could be quite dark. At times, her work habits bordered on the manic, and she saw herself as pathologically obsessive. “As an obsessional artist I fear everything I see,” she has said. “At one time, I dreaded everything I was making.”