Yayoi Kusama Through April 28; daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; $13-$15. Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, 702-693-7871.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you have a soul. And let’s accept that Yayoi Kusama—one of the most prominent artists on the planet—wants to give viewers a glimpse of their soul stuff. Then Kusama’s “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity” installation at the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art might be more than a mint selfie backdrop. It might be the real thing.
For Kusama, visionary consciousness is second nature. She has been rendering her visions in art since age 10. Polka dots—her signature motif—literally imprinted her consciousness when, as a small child in pre-war Japan, dots appeared everywhere she looked. The object of her obsessive/compulsive disorder and her art, Kusama’s dot patterns cover her paintings, sculptures and installations. She has dotted top museums on four continents, along with products for Mini Cooper and Louis Vuitton. Since 1977, she has lived in a Tokyo mental institution, producing increasingly valuable art at a nearby studio. Her artworks now fetch upwards of $7 million at auction, making Kusama the most expensive living female artist.
At the Bellagio, those precious dots are translated into two related installations. The first, “Narcissus Garden,” morphs dots into one-foot diameter spheres and the viewer into Narcissus, the mythic figure who gazed at his reflection until he died and transformed into a flower. Composed of 750 shiny stainless steel balls, Kusama’s “garden” mirrors back the viewer’s tiny image 750 times—Narcissus on steroids. Images bud at a distance and bloom in close-up, the reflective eyes of the spheres observing the observer in infinite regression.
The second installation, “Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity,” also relies on techniques of repetition and accumulation. The viewer enters a small, darkened, mirror-lined room dotted with delicate LED “lanterns,” which recall floating lights guiding ancestral spirits in the annual Japanese Obon festival. Illuminating and extinguishing in a 45-second loop, the LEDs multiply, along with the viewer’s image, into a poetic infinity. The snug room becomes boundless, the viewer materializes in a golden cosmos and the lights intimate the matter of space and time, if not a spiritual dimension. In the “Aftermath” installation, the feeling of being transported to another realm is hard to ignore. Kusama’s intention—to paradoxically absorb and obliterate the viewer in the artwork—again achieves its aim.
“Aftermath” is one of 40-some “infinity” rooms that Kusama has made during a career branded by a restrained vocabulary of style and technique. Her dots display a formalist’s fascination with pattern, but her biography animates her materials with symbolic content, from atoms to stars to cells to the Japanese flag. Kusama’s emotional particle theory allows her to recombine elements, altering materials and scale, while maintaining the integrity of an intensely personal, mystical vision.