Yayoi Kusama’s “Fireflies on the Water”

‘Yayoi Kusama: Fireflies on the Water’ in Toledo

See an installation by the celebrated contemporary Japanese artist at the Toledo Museum of Art through Jan. 3, 2021. 

Some visitors describe “Fireflies on the Water,” which reopened at the Toledo Museum of Art July 21 and runs through Jan. 3, 2021, as being quietly meditative. Others say it startled them into thinking about the world and their place in it.

Although the interpretations are polar opposites, Toledo Museum of Art leadership fellow and curator Lauren Applebaum believes each is spot-on.

“There’s something kind of kaleidoscopic, almost hallucinatory, about the work,” she says. “It really does transport you to another dimension of reality.”

On loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the engaging and immersive installation by celebrated contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama uses mirrors, plexiglass, lights and water to create the illusion of infinity.

The 91-year-old artist, who has lived in a mental facility in Tokyo since 1977, garnered national attention in the 1960s, when she staged live performances in New York that involved painting nude bodies with brightly colored polka dots. In the mid-1960s, she also created her first infinity room that reflected the visual and auditory hallucinations she’s experienced since childhood.

Each visitor to “Fireflies on the Water” will enter the 12-by-12 foot gallery the installation occupies and stay for 60 seconds, closing the door and stepping onto a platform that extends over a pool of water. Although the space is small, the light reflecting on the water and in the mirrors on the walls makes it seem endless.

“What’s really special about her work is that it continues to be relevant as time goes on,” Applebaum says. “We’re in this digital age now, and everybody wants to be connected through social media. Kusama’s installations not only philosophically make people feel connected, they’re also incredibly photogenic. People latch on to sharing the image of themselves inside her room.”

The installation is on display through Jan. 3. 2445 Monroe St., Toledo 43620, 419/255-8000, toledomuseum.org