March 27, 2023

Kusama’s Fireflies at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Yayoi Kusama’s Fireflies on the Water

The lines that have been extending down east 75th street and the Whitney’s north side  have extended exponentially since the museum opened their Kusama retrospective in mid July.  With Kusama spots and tentacles wrapping around Louis Vutton stores all over the city, providing “free” advertising as well as high-end gift shop opportunities. The Kusama retrospective itself is extensive but needlessly due in part to the hype machine around it reads slightly more as a fun fair than a serious intellectual art exhibition.


The exhibition’s highlight and the only original piece produced for show, is a different matter. Fireflies on the Water is an installation intended to be experienced in the solitary—the hard-to-come by tickets are timed and only good for one minute alone inside the space. Where the media surrounding the exhibition hurt the main exhibition, it added a level of anticipation and excitement to Fireflies. I arrived at the museum’s opening and was fortunate enough to snag an 11:20 ticket. Waiting in the white painted holding room and watching my fellow visitors disappear into the room leading to the installation only added to the excitement. Each time the door opened for a brief moment providing a glimmer of the lights inside.


Before I was ready it was my turn to enter Fireflies. Once the door shut behind me I was seemingly suspended among lightly swaying glowing bulbs, fireflies, so to speak in a room covered in mirrors. The floor, also mirrored was layered in water, but due to the mirrors it was difficult to ascertain how large the space, how deep the water or how far above the floor was the platform on which I stood. There was only enough time to slowly walk the two feet length of the platform, past a swaying “firefly” and take a good look around until my time was up. The sense of anticipated leaving disallowed close looking or any attempt to strip away any of Kusama’s illusion.


Shutting the door, being alone in a room with the art was a special, magical minute and in that minute I finally understood a little of what Kusama the artist stood for, what her art could do and what she could change. Her garish red and white circles, phallic furniture and dream-like performances are unique certainly worthy of a position in the greater contemporary canon. But in Fireflies, as brief was my visit, her importance and even genius shone brightly.

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