Friday, August 12, 2016

At the End of the Universe at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Kusama's Love is Calling

The At the End of the Universe exhibit by Yayoi Kusama first caught my eye on my cousin's Instagram feed (@wanderng). Polka dotted, neon colored tentacles rose up from the ground and twisted down from the ceiling. An infinite field of incandescent lights exploded across a dark room. Curiously drawn to wanting to immerse myself in this experience, I knew that I would visit the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH)  the next time that I was in town.

Every summer, the MFAH turns their main exhibit space into an interactive experience suitable for both kids and adults. This year, they are featuring At the End of the Universe by Kusama, an 87-year-old Japanese woman who is one of the top draws at art museums around the world. Her works cross the cultural divide, and people on multiple continents have lined up to see her exhibits. TIME magazine named here one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2016. Her trademark, pop art style often includes polka-dotted sculptures and mirrored rooms. That's exactly what the MFAH delivered. 

One of Kusama's trademark pumpkin sculptures  greets visitors in the MFAH lobby.

Walking into the main exhibit space, I saw two stark white, room-size boxes and a few paintings lining the wall. Is this all there was? No, the magic happened inside the stand-alone rooms. People of all ages queued up on one side waiting their turn. Artsy types, hipster types, Lulemon mammas and granola mammas, families with toddlers and families with teens, college men, society ladies, retirees, and every type in between all stood along the ropes leading to the door. 

When our turn came, the door swung open, and we were admitted along with just a few other people into the space titled "Love is Calling". The room was small, and both the walls and ceiling were covered in mirrors. Around us, Kusama's voice read aloud her poem in Japanese whose English translation I had studied outside while waiting in line. 

Residing in a Castle of Shed Tears 
 ... Being in love with and longing for you,
I have locked myself up in the "castle of shed tears"...
Dancing in the night sky in a myriad of colors,
the fireworks sprinkled dust all over my body...

Inside "Love is Calling"

Was I in a castle of shed tears? To me, it had more of a carnival funhouse atmosphere. Perhaps we were in up in the sky amongst the fireworks? In Japanese, Kusama's voice assures us that "This is my message of love to you." 

My girl and I cautiously walked around, making sure not to accidentally walk into the wall or tentacles. I definitely would have shed some tears had we knocked over something. The room seemed to go on forever,and my own image was reflected back at all angles. We only had a few minutes in the room, if that, before the back door opened, and we were asked to leave so the next group could enter.

One of Kusama's recent paintings are displayed at the back of the gallery.

The next enclosed space is titled "Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity." It represents love's eternal essence — how it keeps appearing and disappearing. This exhibit was a bit tricky in that a floorplan was displayed next to the queue. The floor of the room was covered in a pool of water, and a small platform extended from the door out into the middle of the pool. It was so small that no more than three people could enter at a time. When it was finally our turn, a docent used the beam of his flashlight to outline the edges of the platform and cautioned us to not move once the door was closed. I heard it click shut behind me, and we were suddenly isolated from the outside world. All around us, lanterns dangled from the ceiling and were reflected in the mirrored walls and water below us. It was as if we were suspended in a field of stars in the middle of the Milky Way. The lights grew brighter then dimmed, and the cycle repeated. It was magical.

Aftermath of the Obliteration of Eternity

All too quickly, a minute at the most, our turn was over. Unfortunately, each visitor is allowed only one turn in this room even if no one else is waiting in line. I could have spent much longer in there. Although knowing me, I would have eventually fallen into the pool trying to get a good photo.

In one corner of the gallery sits a small printer that encourages visitors to share their experience on Instagram. By hashtagging a photo #KusamaUniverse, you can automatically print your photo and keep it as a free souvenir. How cool is that? However, I know that when I instagram a photo to promote this blog post this week, it will print out over a hundred miles away in the MFAH. I wonder if anyone will pick it up.

Kusama's At the End of the Universe is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston until September 18, 2016. Buying timed tickets online beforehand is strongly recommended as days do sell out. See the MFAH's FAQ for ticket prices and tips on how to visit, especially with kids under 12 years old. 

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  1. I love Yayoi Kusama's style. I'm big on colour so her work wows me. :)

  2. This is so, so cool! Love those colors. I do not go to museums that much anymore since my husband do not like them. But, I think I can entice him to go to this exhibition.

  3. contented travellerAugust 13, 2016 at 3:59 PM

    Love art, and love anything to do with art so this would suit me.

  4. No one else in my family wanted to go to this except for my daughter. She was young enough to be free, so I figured I saved money.

  5. What a great exhibit! I love those that find ways to involve the viewer, and bringing you right into the work is about as close as you can get! Dying to see Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity - sounds awesome!

  6. I love the brightly colored, high contrast art. Very psychedelic.

  7. This looks very refreshing: lots of color and modern lines. I am not a big fan of modern art, but this exhibit is quite attractive.

  8. Lyn - A Hole in my ShoeAugust 15, 2016 at 7:52 AM

    Love this as I'm really drawn to colour, so thank you for linking this to #TheWeeklyPostcard

  9. looks like a fun and very kid-friendly art exhibit. Maybe it will travel!

  10. So very cool! I love your photos - and would love to see an exhibit like this!

  11. What a fascinating exhibit Michelle! The aftermath of obliteration of eternity room looks magical but I too would have found myself spending too long trying to capture a perfect photo and probably not long enough just taking in its beauty! Also love the huge Pumpkin sculpture - I'll have to keep my eyes peeled to see if it ever gets exhibited in London,assuming it hasn't done already.

  12. i can see why your cousins Instagram posts inspired you to visit. If I just lived closer I'd be checking this out as well. What a shame they only allow you one visit in this area.


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