The first time I heard of her was when my prof in university showed me her work as a reference a couple years ago. Still a vague-sounding Japanese artist to a noob student like me then, she became more and more well-known in Singapore, with her work printed on Louis Vuitton bags and now, the ultimate mass publicity of all, the exhibition Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Life is a Heart of The Rainbow’ in the National Gallery. This is perhaps the most popular exhibition I have visited so far… in terms of the most number of visitors, most photographed, and most hashtagged. When I went there on a weekday afternoon after work, the queue at the ticketing office was longer than usual, and the staff admitted they had been busy for ‘the past few months’.
I am not going to describe so much about her work to avoid spoiling the experience of those who have yet to visit. So I will just share some snippets of my experience in the exhibition in relation to the fellow visitors:
The first hall contains paintings from her formative years of pattern exploration. I leaned forward as I was wondering how she executed such perfect brushstrokes and shapes, examining the little details and imagining the possible methods… when I saw a lady touching another painting next to me with her index finger.
I felt irritated instantly. What is she doing and why?? I mean, even if you don’t know basic museum etiquette, shouldn’t you stay away from touching something that is barricaded for a reason? Since she stopped doing that immediately, I just rolled my eyes and walked away. Even if you feel that your fingers are clean and you only touch gently, or if the tactile quality of the artwork make your hands itch), just don’t touch anything (unless you are specifically invited to do so). It may not even be only about artwork per se, but also things in general. If something does not belong to you, what gives you the right to disturb it? Our fingers have a thin layer of oil that may accelerate the degeneration of the paint. Or for whatever reason. Just keep your hands to yourself.
Then I arrived at the first installation, which is a yellow room of black polka dots with a mirror box in the middle called ‘The Spirits of The Pumpkins Descended into The Heavens’. I managed to enter the room after 20 minutes of queuing, and I waited again for my turn to take a peek into the peephole on the mirror box that was put in the middle of the room. There were a mom with her two small kids waiting behind me, and the kids were left wandering inside the room. Of course the kids were curious of what was inside the box and started to attempt to climb the steps that led to the peephole, slightly obstructing the people who were having their turn. What made me roll my eyes was the fact that the mom did not do anything to stop her children… So she just let the situation run its course, as if it was cool if her kids cut someone else’s turn. Erm… ok.
The next hall houses the famous light room ‘Infinity Mirrored Room – Gleaming Lights of The Souls’. Similar with the previous installation, I was queueing for about 20 minutes to enter this room. I did not know what to expect of what to see inside, so I just made a mental note to myself not to ‘touch the lights’ or ‘get off the platform’ according to what the signs said.
Suddenly something happened. Around 5 minutes before my turn to go in, someone shrieked from inside. The visitors froze for a while. What happened inside? Should we be worried? The museum staff went into the room to attend to the matter. Did they knock on something? Did they step out of the platform? I wondered. Is something broken? Are they going to close down the installation? (just before I can go in!) But people in front of me continued to talk again, as if nothing had happened. No announcement. Nothing. The queue moved forward again, so I concluded nothing serious had happened. And indeed it was the case, as my turn to go in finally arrived.
The museum sitter ushered me in and told me that I only had 20 seconds inside… I suddenly felt a jolt of panic. I quickly prepared the camera function on my phone, trying to capture the scene quickly and to have enough time to enjoy it with my own eyes without the camera. And then they knocked the door three times. The time was up. The description in the brochure that says it ‘invite(s) contemplation in an infinitely repeating, expanded space’ is questionable. There was just no time to contemplate.
When I moved to the next hall, a child (who happened to be in the same group of the lady who touched the painting) brought in an opened packet of biscuits into the gallery. The museum staff happened to see it and and politely told the kid to finish it before he could go in to see the exhibition. To be frank all the museum staff that I met that day were friendly and helpful, despite some difficult visitors that I described.
The next hall has a lot of big paintings. And when you have a lot of big paintings, people tend to make it a background to their picture, because they are big, and they look really good (to be fair the exhibition so far had been Instagram-worthy). However, many were just taking too long, snapping many poses at different angles. I mean I am not trying to be this puritan art critique who feels artwork has to be enjoyed in its purest way: looking at a painting, thinking of what could possibly be the meaning while stroking our chin. By all means, take picture for documentation, take picture to maintain your persona on your Instagram account (the museum even provides a hashtag #sgloveskusama for social media purposes), but think of others who want to enjoy the exhibition as well. Perhaps you can step aside and check the string of photos you have just taken. Let other people approach the artwork before you resume the pursuit of taking the perfect photograph.
Having said that, I too decided to take a selfie in front of the painting in an attempt to recreate the publicity poster (see below). Due to the lack of red wig and sharp glare, the attempt failed ;p
Despite all what I wrote above, the exhibition was a good one 🙂
Yayoi Kusama ‘Lide is The Heart of A Rainbow’ opens at the National Gallery from 9 Jun to 3 Sep 2017
Check out their website for admission matters.