A Look Inside GOMA's Kaleidoscopic 'Yayoi Kusama: Life Is the Heart of a Rainbow' Exhibition

The Japanese artist's polka dot Obliteration Room, immersive mirror rooms and pumpkins have landed in Brisbane.
Sarah Ward
Published on November 21, 2017

The world's best game of connect the dots is currently happening in Brisbane. Step foot inside Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art, and it begins — first with a multi-coloured, circled-covered sculpture, then with giant yellow spheres suspended from the ceiling. Bright canvases blasted with tiny pinpricks, portraits of animals surrounded by giant rings, mannequins with orb-like structures protruding from their torso — the list goes on. They're present on paintings of pumpkins, on recreations of the Venus de Milo and when you peer into a mirrored hexagon through a circular porthole.

Of course, given that GOMA is currently playing host to a free 70-plus piece retrospective of Yayoi Kusama's work, dots are inescapable. Whether peppered across other objects, floating through the air or plastered across a white room by a willing audience, they've been a part of the Japanese artist's work since she was ten years old. Ask her why, and she has a simple answer: "I am just another dot in the world," she has famously replied — and it couldn't better encapsulate the feeling of looking at her repetition-filled, infinity-pondering artistry.

That sentiment doesn't just echo throughout the gallery. It's written on one of its walls — not that visitors need the reminder, given the round shapes that linger everywhere you look. The exhibition might be called Life Is the Heart of a Rainbow after one of her most recent pieces, but at the heart of that rainbow sits a giant circle. Yes, we mean that literally. It's one of the last paintings on display, so you'll see it for yourself.

Co-curated with the National Gallery Singapore, where the exhibition displayed until September, the vast showcase also spans everything from Kusama's 'net' paintings and soft sculptures to her black-and-white pieces and video work — and, all of the dot-flecked pieces that you could imagine. Running in Brisbane until February 11, 2018, it's an immersive experience that has to be seen to be truly understood and appreciated. Here's six things to look out for along the way.

Anwyn Howarth


A mirrored hexagonal box isn't the type of thing that you see every day. Neither is the kaleidoscopic array of colourful lights shining brightly inside. An Instagrammer's dream, I WANT TO LOVE ON THE FESTIVAL NIGHT was specially created for the exhibition's Singapore stint, though it has evolved from her 1966 effort, Kusama's Peep Show. You'll want to peer into each of the structure's three viewing holes, and, given the changing hues, you'll want to stay staring through each for at least a few minutes.

Anwyn Howarth


Colour abounds in Life Is the Heart of a Rainbow, just like dots; but standing in one particular room in the exhibition will make you feel like you're bathing in several pails of paint. The bright, spiky shapes of Kusama's sculptures combine with the vibrant hues and vivid lines in her paintings, making the room seem alive. And that's without featuring any of the artist's immersive installations in this specific space.

Anwyn Howarth


It's an old favourite for a reason, and it's back. Interactive in the best, brightest and most fun possible way, The Obliteration Room stems from Kusama's childhood perception, seeing the world through a screen of tiny dots. After "obliterating" her work with dots from that moment, she now asks everyone else to do the same. You step inside a room, painted white from floor to ceiling — including all of its surfaces, fixtures, furniture and objects too — and then add spots of colour in sticker form. Yes, running around sticking spots on everything is as fun and therapeutic as it sounds.

Sarah Ward


Other than dots, one thing is certain at Life Is the Heart of a Rainbow: whatever day or time you visit, there'll be a line visible on the other side of the exhibition entrance. It's for the most immersive aspect of the show, and it's well worth the wait. While you're only allowed inside SOUL UNDER THE MOON for 30 seconds given the queue, you'll find a dark, mirrored room filled with suspended glowing balls awaiting once you enter. Be careful not to step too far when you're marvelling at its luminous sights that appear to go on forever (or taking snaps), or you'll find yourself in water.

Sarah Ward


If you can wander through Life Is the Heart of a Rainbow and leave without feeling the need to eat pumpkin, then you clearly haven't spent enough time looking at Kusama's orange corner. You won't just find paintings of vegetables on display here, but sculptures that look like mutated pollen, a horror-movie like tentacle piece called Sex Obsession, and quite the blend of fabric, stylised anatomy and paint. Just when your cravings subside, however, you'll enter the mirrored THE SPIRITS OF THE PUMPKINS DESCENDED INTO THE HEAVENS — and you'll be seeing pumpkins for days.

Anwyn Howarth


Amidst the colour, movement, mirrors and dots of GOMA's exhibition, it's easy to walk past the dark room out the back — but don't. Inside, you'll find documents and video works from throughout Kusama's career, plus a seat to sit down and watch. Doing just that is recommended, whether you want to see the artist walk through the streets five decades ago, or see her stick dots on a cat. Yes, the latter does happen, and yes, it's as fantastic as it sounds. "If there's a cat, I obliterate it by putting polka dot stickers on it," is another of her famous quotes, after all.

Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibits at Brisbane's Gallery of Modern Art until 11 February 2018. For more information, head to the gallery website.

Images: Anwyn Howarth / Sarah Ward.

Published on November 21, 2017 by Sarah Ward
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