Yayoi Kusama,Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life
When the Tate Modern opened in spring of 2000 (with none other than Queen Elizabeth presiding), we had just “survived” Y2K; 9/11 and the Iraq war were still in the near future distance; and Britain was riding high on Cool Britannia and the seemingly intractable optimism of Prime Minister Tony Blair (who, eventually, would be brought low by that very same Iraq War.)
Art had played a big part in Britain’s new attitude, with the Young British Artists whooping it up with Britpop stars in the ’90s, and grabbing headlines with their provocatively conceptual works and their endlessly entertaining debauchery. London was at the center of the universe again, and East London was about to become the new center of the contemporary art zeitgeist.
Yayoi Kusama, Chandelier of Grief
The Tate Modern is all grown up now, and will celebrate its 20th anniversary on May 11. The world, of course, is a very different place. Curiously, the museum—which draws nearly six million visitors a year and has established itself as one of the world’s most respected cultural institutions—will not actually be rallying around the UK’s recent artistic legacy, but looking to international icons to fete its short legacy.
One of those artistic icons is Yayoi Kusama, whose career absolutely skyrocketed in her 80s—and who will be 91 by the time the Tate festivities kick off. Thrillingly, two of her ethereal mirror rooms installations will be featured: Chandelier of Grief, and the reassuringly titled 2012 Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life, arguably her most spectacular of that entire series.
The museum has also come to be known for its signature, thought-provoking pairings of works by artists one may not have previously imagined being coupled up. And twenty new pairings will mark the anniversary, including the particularly epic juxtaposition in the cavernous Turbine Hall of Louise Bourgeois’ (giant spider) Maman, and Lee Mingwei’s contemplative performance piece Our Labyrinth.
An enthusiastic embrace of performance, in fact, has also been central to the development of the Tate Modern’s risk-taking identity. And highlighted works will include Nedko Solakov’s (A Life [Black & White]), Tunga’s Xifópagas Capilares’ (entre Nós), and Allora & Calzadilla’s Balance of Power, which is made up of yoga practitioners in military garb throwing “warrior poses”…perhaps readying us to fight the next wave of culture wars. For an even more visceral engagement, there will be behind-the-scenes presentations, talks with the Tate staff, and short films with artist interviews.
Of course, this also comes at the moment when the Brexit process has at last been put into effect. So for some, a sense of nostalgia can’t help but hang over the proceedings—with the Tate Modern having been central to a new sense of cultural confidence for Britain. For those who had been caught up in that exhilarating new sense of hopefulness, the museum’s 20th anniversary fête this spring seems nothing short of compulsory.