Photographs were once prohibited in art museums, but now the game has changed – as social media becomes an unavoidable element in our daily life, galleries and museums are now encouraging them in some degree. While we talk about the presences of artists on social media, perhaps no artist is more at home on social media than Yayoi Kusama, an 89-year old Japanese artist famous for her repetitive polka dots works. A brief search of the #yayoikusama hashtag on Instagram reveals more than 719k posts, also 23.7k posts under the #yayoikusamaexhibition hashtag, never mention the posts under the hashtag of her original Japanese name.
In the past, we spent hours in countless galleries and museums, appreciating arts from a distance. The development of technology, however, leads to an irreversible change in the way we interact with art – arts become immersive. Marina Abramovic shared an emotional bond with you by staring at you across a table in MoMA. Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass created the Rain Room, offering you the experience of controlling the rain. James Turrell invited you to another dimensional world in his light installation.
Of course, one of the most visionary artists who understands the importance of human interaction is Yayoi Kusama, whose installation “Infinitely Mirror Rooms” have the most social media engagements. In those mirrored chambers, Kusama placed with sparkling LED lights, luminous acrylic pumpkins, or floating red polka dots orbs to create a real-life kaleidoscope.
Even though the “Infinitely Mirror Rooms” were mostly created in 1950s, long before the existence of social media, the combination of dramatic, highly photographable visuals, and selfie-friendly environments makes Kusama’s arts tailor-made for Instagram posts. Social media plays an incredible role in generating excitements about exhibitions – nothing works better than your friend telling you that you must go to see this exhibition. Apparently Kusama’s works have all the ingredients to boost a social media phenomenon. The international tour of her works helps multiple museums hit their record high crowd.
Unsurprisingly, the selfies and pictures have come under fire from critics who see it as a symbol of modern narcissism. (Ironically, Yayoi Kusama has another iconic piece just called Narcissus Garden, she debuted that at the Venice Biennale in 1966 – she was not invited by the Biennale official at all but placed hundreds of mirrored spheres outside the museum, dressed in a golden kimono, she began selling the spheres for $2 each to the visitors) You can’t deny that many people flock to the exhibitions only for a selfie in front of the perfect backdrop. I admit that some of Kusama’s popularity should be credited to today’s Instagram-obsessed-generation. However, the carnival on Instagram is not only because the selfie-friendly opportunities. Her mirror rooms shatter the physical boundaries between the visitors and the arts on display by inserting you into the art.
Born in an extremely conservative family in Japan in 1929, Kumasa spent her life fighting the boundaries and limitations set by the world. After living in France and the US, she returned to Japan in 1973 due to a series of mental illnesses. Ever since 1977, Kusama has been living in a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo, going to her studio across the street during the day and painting eight hours a day.