Remember “Seven Minutes in Heaven”? Well, subtract six, forgo the awkward fumbling, and you’ve got one of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. Their mirrored walls and ceiling surround you, while hundreds of small, dangling lights glow, dim and change color. Standing there, you feel at one with a universe that’s filled with infinite possibilities.
Kusama’s designed more than a dozen such rooms, the latest of which is at Chelsea’s David Zwirner gallery in “Every Day I Pray For Love,” which opens Saturday. Globally recognized for her polka dots and pumpkins, Kusama’s been called a pop artist and minimalist, but there’s nothing minimal about her output: Even now, at 90 — and living in a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo, to which she committed herself years ago — she reportedly spends every day making art.
“She’s obsessively working all the time,” the gallery’s Hanna Schouwink tells The Post. “When she isn’t making art, she writes.”
You’ll see even more of Kusama’s work at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, for which she designed a 36-foot-round balloon that looks like a happy sun, with tentacles. Parade producer Susan Tercero says that when she took her 3-year-old to the balloon test, she asked him which one he liked best, and he pointed to Kusama’s. “That tells you that her art appeals to everyone,” she tells The Post.
Schouwink says Kusama was delighted to join the parade. “She really loves New York,” says Schouwink, who’s made many a visit to the artist’s studio. “She made a lot of art here.”
Kusama’s autobiography describes an uneasy childhood spent with a philandering father and a rigidly traditional mother who tried to quash her daughter’s creativity by ripping the paper out of her hands. When she moved to New York in 1958, her friend Donald Judd recalled, she had a monkey-fur coat and a suitcase full of kimonos, and threw herself into painting and performance art. In 1969, decades before MoMA gave her a one-woman show, Kusama staged a “grand orgy to awaken the dead” in the museum’s sculpture garden, leading a passel of naked, body-painted performance artists who cavorted around Balzac and Company.
No such festivities are planned for this exhibit. Four people at a time will get their (strictly timed) one-minute epiphany in the infinity room, so prepare to wait. While you do, check out that polka-dotted pumpkin, its stem curved like a periscope, in the hallway, and near it, the giant “People on Earth” canvas, whose hieroglyphic-like figures turn out to be a series of heads in profile. (If the line’s daunting, there’s a second Kusama exhibit four blocks north, at Mucciaccia Gallery, minus the infinity room.)
“Every Day I Pray for Love” is the title of one of 42 square canvases, nearly all with “love,” “beauty” or “splendor” in titles that sound like ungainly haikus: such as, “The Limit of the Endless Beauty that Colours Spoke of is Infinite.” Brightly painted, they summon up images of suns, stones and something you might see under a microscope. The overall effect is one of life and hope.
On the floor of that same room are Kusama’s “Clouds,” a dozen or so groups of stainless-steel sculptures that look like big blobs of mercury, or puddles of shiny tears. Hope and despair: Who can’t relate?
Upstairs, beyond a heavy black curtain, is a room containing a single sculpture. “Ladder to Heaven,” a work Kusama designed this year, is made up of steel, LED lights, mirrored glass and something called “honeycomb aluminum,” and the overall effect is dazzling. Look up, and a mirror projects you and the ladder into infinity. Look down, and the mirrored base suggests you’re falling down an endless well. Either way, you’re likely to feel dizzy.
It’s almost a relief, then, to emerge into the next gallery and find a grouping of stuffed fabric sculptures that suggest a family, if not a particularly happy one: The taller figures face each other like the king and queen of opposing players on a chessboard, separated by smaller pieces that could be children or pets. Or succulents and cacti, which is what they really look like.
“I’ve spoken to someone who’s spoken to the artist, and this is mom and this is dad,” gallery guide Ruslan Aliiev tells The Post, as he points out each. The “mom,” in this case, with its orange, bagel-shaped mouth, recalls Mr. Bill, the tormented claymation figure of “Saturday Night Live.”
Whatever demons tormented Kusama, she’s turned them into works that, with their bright colors and optimistic titles (“I Will Love With all my Heart”) are ultimately uplifting — as buoyant as balloons.
“Every day I Pray for Love,” Tuesdays to Saturdays through Dec. 14 at David Zwirner, 537 W. 20th St. Free.