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How The Hirshhorn Spent Two Years Preparing For The Yayoi Kusama Show

Mar 7, 2017

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden spent two years preparing to give visitors about 20 seconds of wow.

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” invites visitors to consider their place in the universe by immersing themselves in the Japanese artist’s whimsical and ethereal installations.

The ephemeral nature of the exhibition’s mirror rooms — the enclosures that seem simultaneously cosmological and kitschy — belies the painstakingly detailed work required to host it. From constructing the conceptual artworks to controlling the crowds, the Smithsonian’s modern and contemporary art museum has stretched its staff and budget for the exhibition’s 12-week run.

“The Kusama show is the culmination of two years of hard work that has not been visible,” said Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu.

The Hirshhorn hired staff, recruited and trained volunteers, and purchased dozens of roped stanchions to corral the crowds. The museum introduced timed passes to control anticipated crowds, brought Dolcezza Gelatto and Coffee to its courtyard for refreshments and offered audio guides for the show, which runs through May 14.

“A great deal of our thinking was about the orchestration of the visitor through the building,” Chiu said. “What’s the optimal engagement with this exhibition, how can we make it meaningful and compelling?”

Despite the planning, opening weekend was chaotic. Even with timed passes, hundreds of visitors waited hours to get into the gallery during its first weekend; many complained they had only a few seconds to experience the rooms and often were forced to enter with strangers. There was more waiting than experiencing, they said.