Art lovers from all over expected to flock to Toronto for Infinity Mirrors exhibit

TORONTO — It’s not typical to have to book months in advance to get mere seconds with a piece of art at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario.

But the much-Instagrammed contemporary art exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is no typical attraction.

The gallery has been overwhelmed by the frenzy of interest in the exhibit, even though visitors will be expected to wait in long lines and then have only 20 to 30 seconds inside each of Kusama’s famous mirror-lined kaleidoscopic rooms.

Infinity Mirrors was staged in Washington, D.C., in early 2017 and moved on to Seattle and Los Angeles. It will be at the AGO from March 3 to May 27 before heading to Cleveland in the summer.

Adelina Vlas, the AGO’s associate curator of contemporary art, says the gallery is expecting to attract visitors from other parts of Canada, as well as outside the country.

“(People) are looking at the closest, next destination for the exhibition, and it’s Toronto,” says Vlas. “I think the exhibition will have an appeal to all northern coastal U.S. cities as well as Canadian cities.”

Member pre-sales for the exhibit drew record interest, says Herman Lo, director of visitor experience at the AGO. The gallery’s website can generally process about 1,500 tickets an hour but on the first day of the pre-sale event, the online queue approached 18,000 people.

Some gallery members complained of wait times of up to eight hours, but the museum has promised to simplify the ticketing process for the next member pre-sale on Jan. 9. Tickets go on sale for the regular public on Jan. 16.

The exhibit’s massive popularity “shows that there is a desire for those moments of wonder,” says Vlas.

In the rooms that give the exhibit its title, Kusama fills the mirrored spaces with light and colour to create vibrant visions that seem to go on forever. Vlas admits the rooms are “a perfect opportunity for selfies and for beautiful Instagram moments.”

Vlas says Kusama, who is 88, has long been respected in modern-art circles. But she didn’t receive worldwide recognition until the 1990s, when she became the first woman to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale.

The Instagram following for “Infinity Mirrors” has given Kusama a new kind of fame outside of the art world. Tens of thousands of Instagram photos have used the .infinitekusama hashtag, and Adele performed in front of a background of one of the artist’s rooms at the 2016 Brit Awards.

In Vlas’s view — as the curator planning the exhibit and as an audience member who has seen Kusama’s rooms several times before — the estimated wait times of 20 minutes to get into one of the rooms are worth it. Up to four people will be allowed inside the rooms at once so visitors can fully appreciated the experience.

“As different as it sounds from other types of exhibitions, I think the reward of being in that environment for the amount of time that is allotted to each group of visitors — it’s quite rewarding, and quite significant,” she says.

Vlas says she welcomes the audience members who came to Kusama through Instagram, and hopes they’ll stay to see the other works in the exhibit, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures by the artist.

“I think it’s something that is quite important and that should not be lost in the hype about the exhibition: she is a really significant artist,” Vlas says.

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