Commercial art galleries usually empty out on rainy Thursday afternoons. Yet at Victoria Miro’s Wharf Road gallery, there are hundreds of people. We’re all queuing up to visit Yayoi Kusama’s latest exhibition. Outside, dozens more are being turned away. Hardly anyone here is over the age of 25. Kusama, who recently turned 87, must be the hippest Japanese pensioner on the planet.
Kusama’s mirror rooms, which place the viewer within a universe of varying proliferating reflections, are the main attraction. There are three here. Where the Lights in My Heart Go and Chandelier of Grief occupy the lower floor. But a far longer queue trails up the stairs for All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins.
Kusama’s big theme is an exploration of the individual’s relationship to the infinite cosmos. It’s visible in vivid black and yellow – in an extraordinary, ethereal work. Standing inside its hall of mirrors – with the door slammed behind you –you see luminous, giant pumpkins stretch off and repeat. A two dimensional reproduction could never come close to the effect. A hi-tech pair of 3D VR goggles wouldn’t stand a chance.
We spend sixty odd seconds alone in the seemingly endless space. Could this be the closest we'll ever get to the wonder of the medieval peasant, in awe from walking into a wall of lapis lazuli for the first time? We think it has to be better than that.
One could be inside a computer game, or the best movie that we've yet to see. More appropriately, we could be cast among the anonymous characters in any great art work from centuries past. The tiny skaters in Avercamp’s 17 th century winter landscapes, or the miniature black devils painted by Bosch come to mind.
Our multiple reflections on the ceilinged mirror resemble these the most. Of course, not everyone in the hundreds-strong queue is here to look at the art. There wasn’t a single person ahead or behind me in the line who wasn’t wielding a smartphone.
Because, despite her best intentions, Yayoi Kusama has unwittingly created the art world’s best opportunity to snap a selfie. Hence the long queues. We've have no gripes with this. If there was ever an example of the viewer adding meaning to a work then it’s the long line of tapping reprobates that we now count myself a member of. The gallery only admit two people into each mirror room at a time. We get to go in on my own as naturally, we'd ruin any self respecting art lover’s selfie with our crumpled suit and half-cocked flat-cap.
What Hogarth was to the 19 th century print, and Monet to the 20th century greetings card, Kusama is to the 21 st century touch screen. All of this, naturally, contributes to making these works at Victoria Miro among the most famous, and certainly the most Instagrammed, art works in the world. We snap away for vanity, but also to show we made it: Yayoi Kusama and us, London, 2016.
Looking at yourself is a new way of looking at art, our selfie seems to say. The academies would have a fit.