Home and Away
The House Everyone Wants to Visit—and It’s Art
Queues are massing outside Yayoi Kusama’s latest art project, a strange little house in Manhattan’s West Chelsea. Inside is a colorfully crazy wonderland.
If you’re not careful, you could miss it.
Subtle trails of randomly placed dots are beginning to appear on the West Side of Manhattan.
There’s a lime green one stuck to the sidewalk, a cluster of blues and yellows on a street sign and a string of reds along a rod iron fence.
They lead like gumdrops down 10th Avenue as if the wicked witch from Hansel and Gretel were enticing even more unsuspecting victims to her house in the woods, except the enchantress in question is no witch at all.
It’s notoriously playful Yayoi Kusama, the renowned, 86-year-old Japanese artist who has been voluntarily living in a mental institution since 1973. Hers is an astonishing life, as a 2012 Financial Times profile made clear; her obsession with dots, she said, helps to “obliterate” her anxieties through repetition.
The FT noted her once saying, “I don’t want to cure my mental problems, rather I want to utilise them as a generating force for my art.”
Being the world’s most popular working artist, she emerges every so often to present her works at galleries and museums around the globe.
As the trail of stickers begin to fade on 19th Street, Kusama’s newly constructed house comes into view.
Its size is somewhere between a studio apartment and an oversized dollhouse, tucked in a garage at David Zwirner’s 19th Street gallery space and looks every bit as generic as the suburban Midwest.
For weeks, lines have formed at its white screen door as locals and tourist wait for a chance to step inside. What lies ahead is an explosion of color that can be both hypnotizing and disorienting.
“I had no idea it would be this overwhelming,” Katie Davenport, a 24-year-old grad student at New York University, told The Daily Beast. “But it makes for one hell of an Instagram photo.”
Thousands of brightly colored circles cover the white walls and furniture of “the obliteration room,” which is part of larger exhibition of the artist’s work titled Give Me Love.
As each hour passes, less of the original interior is visible as the throngs of visitors cover almost every inch with stickers.
When I arrived on Thursday morning, a line had yet to form. Three baby strollers sat parked out front and as I walked through the door I could have easily been crashing a kid’s 4th birthday party.
“They are having a blast,” Jennifer Horne, a mother of two who lives in Tribeca, told The Daily Beast. “It’s such a great way to get kids involved in art and it’s a lot better than having them try this at home,” she said with a laugh.
A group of children ran around tagging each other with dots as their mothers or nannies chatted and snapped photographs.
A small dog trotted by with a bright red circle affixed to his head as a small child sat in a kitchen cabinet decorating one of the last few areas that had remained untouched. The interior was so covered with stickers that many objects had become unrecognizable.
These brightly colored polka dots have become a calling card of sorts for Kusama, who moved to New York in the 1950s and began melding Minimalism and Pop into a new narrative of postwar and contemporary art.
Almost all of her paintings, sculptures, installations and performances use some variation of the spherical shape.
The rest of the exhibition includes massive, brightly colored paintings and a new set of reflective sculptures shaped like pumpkins.
The room was first conceived for the Queensland Art Gallery in 2002, when Kusama transformed her “Self-Obliteration” acts from the 1960s into a fully immersive experience for spectators. In the early performance, she took to applying dots to the bodies of men and women to hide all superficial characteristics.
Since then, she’s painted them on canvas, added them to reflective surfaces and created immersive experiences that have continued to lure massive crowds and fueled our selfie-seeking culture.
This isn’t the first time a Kusama exhibition has recruited massive crowds. Her first exhibition with David Zwirner, Yayoi Kusama: I Who Have Arrived In Heaven, saw roughly 2,500 visitors a day with wait times up to eight hours, according to the gallery.
Inside, a room full of mirrors reflected hundreds of multicolored LED lights that pulsated at various speeds and patterns. The display created a seemingly endless space of existence where the spectator was allowed a moment of reflective contemplation.
“More and more I think about the role of the arts, and as an artist, I think that it’s important that I share the love and peace,” Kusama told The Daily Beast in 2012 through a translator. “I would like to work with you together to make that happen, to deliver the joy of the art and love and peace to people who are suffering and don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the joy of the art.”
That same year Marc Jacobs, as creative director for Louis Vuitton, enlisted the artist to create an exclusive line for the high-fashion label.
Kusama’s colorful dots were slapped on shoes, handbags, and a wide range for jewelry. From then on, her unique style once again became ubiquitous among the fashion-savvy and art-loving crowd.
By mid-afternoon Thursday, a larger crowd had gathered outside of the gallery. A line of hipster millennials, backpack-toting tourists, and chicly attired art admirers stretched halfway down the block.
“This is nothing compared to ‘Infinity [Mirror] Room,’ Elliot Yu, a Japanese student studying at Parsons, told The Daily Beast. “I think I waited two hours to get in to that and I just waited about 30 minutes for this.”
Where the “Infinity Mirror Room” was “all about meditation,” he said, “The obliteration room” is “just a lot of fun” and “makes for some wicked selfies.”
And as many emerged from the house with stickers affixed to their bodies, faces, and bags, it was all smiles and laughter as more continued to stick the dots to street surfaces as they walked away.
Give Me Love is on display at David Zwirner, 519 & 525 West 19th Street, until June 13.