Big Softie: Kusama’s Installation at Manchester’s New Factory Space

Installation view from Manchester International Festival 2023 exhibition ‘Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and the Balloons’ at Aviva Studios. Images © David Levene. Photograph taken on 28th June 2023

Yayoi Kusama: You, Me And The Balloons 

Daily, 10:00 - 19:15

From: 19 Jul 2023

To: 28 Aug 2023

The Warehouse
Aviva Studios
Water Street
M3 4JQ

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Art galleries are like chameleons. With the help of a curator’s eye, they morph into different exhibitions through time. Group shows, solo retrospectives, immersive exhibitions or a showcase of the modern masters, gallery spaces ‘sink’ into the artist’s work.

The Factory, a brand-new event space in Manchester, opened its doors last month to Yayoi Kusama’s latest wild exhibition You, Me And The Balloons – an immersive exhibition by one of the world’s most innovative artists. Born in 1929 in Japan, she has lived in psychiatric care in New York since the 1970’s. Now 94, she is the world’s top-selling female artist and one of the most celebrated women in the art world, known as a pioneer of immersive art. Her installations employ mirrors and her signature polka-dot motif to immerse viewers in alternative perspectives.

The entirely-inflatable exhibit sits in the large event space of the new build, which is honourably named after Manchester’s legendary Factory Records. Working in conjunction with the long-standing Manchester International Festival, the exhibition is the art that Manchester has been craving. 

There are two rooms that delight the senses during the exhibition. The first, quintessentially Kusama, upheaves her polka-dot motif with giant inflatable black and yellow tentacle-like sculptures that twist across the room, revealing the first slice of Kusama’s world. A honey trap for influencers, the inflatable art is certainly an opportunity for the Instagram lover to take a snap. With her hashtag #YayoiKusama garnering a colossal 1.1m views since social media was born, Instagram is fast becoming a way in which we engage in art. One of Kusama’s core principles has been to make art accessible to all and by being greeted immediately by Instagram-able art the viewer is engaged in more ways than one.

Installation view (28th June 2023)

Following her dizzy dots, AKA ‘Infinity Nets’, you enter the main space of the exhibition. A collection of Kusama tropes, from large-scale inflatable coloured pumpkin sculptures as big as buildings to a 10-metre vibrant caricature of Kusama herself, the whole exhibit is colourful, interactive and transports the viewer immediately into her mind and world. 

One of the highlights includes two exposures of her legendary ‘infinity rooms’ – mirrored spaces that bounce images of dots or mushrooms where the mind questions what’s real and what’s not. There’s a bit of a queue to get into the main infinity room, and to view the second one via a small eye-scope, but it’s worth it, and as you wait you can enjoy the rest of the art on offer. 

Going for a distinctly ‘less is more’ approach, there was little to read throughout the exhibition, pushing you to enjoy the art rather than getting bogged-down in consuming too much information. The information that was there was factual and insightful, revealing the artist’s life from 1929 to now. 

Capturing the eye of such a broad audience isn’t commonplace in the art world. By leaning into society’s interest in Instagram-able art, immersive spaces and impressive exhibitions, Kusama positions herself differently to the rest. 

With thanks to Isabel Armitage for this review. Images © David Levene.

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