'Fireflies' The Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room – Phoenix, Arizona - Atlas Obscura
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Phoenix, Arizona

'Fireflies' The Yayoi Kusama Infinity Room

The official name “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies” says it all. 

Working (voluntarily) from a Japanese mental institution for the last 40 years, the 86-year-old Yayoi Kusama is finally getting her due as one the greatest living artists in the world.

Born in Japan in 1929, Kusama left Japan in her late 20’s frustrated with the formal nature of the master disciple system and moved to New York. Kusama quickly became a fixture of New York’s exploding avant-garde art scene, hanging out with the likes of Donald Judd, Eva Hess, and Joseph Cornell.

Known for her wild “happenings,” she staged large events featuring nude people covered in dots, opened a nude painting studio and gay social club, and wrote a letter to Richard Nixon offering to have vigorous sex with him if he stopped the Vietnam war. 

However, despite being a darling of New York’s 1960s avant-garde art scene, once she moved back to Japan in 1973 for mental health issues, she was largely forgotten. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that her work began to gain international recognition once again. It has been on a steady upward climb since. Working from her mental hospital, in 2008 she sold a work for 5.1 million dollars, setting a record for a price paid for a work by a living female artist.

Even now, you can experience one of her works in person. “You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies,” is installed permanently at the Phoenix Art Museum. It uses a 25 foot square space with mirror-lined walls; flooring of polished black granite; a black plexiglass ceiling; and 250 dangling LED lights, programed with alternating color. The effect is etherial and expansive, it is as though one is extended in space. Like much of Kusama’s work, one’s sense of self, space, and time is overwhelmed and nearly obliterated by visual force.

Although this work uses light spheres in the place of polka dots, it is very much in keeping with the same visual sense, as in the artist’s own words “Polka dots are a way to infinity.”

Know Before You Go

The exhibit is located in the Contemporary Art Wing of the Phoenix Art Museum, just off of North Central Avenue in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona.

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