As Black Friday settled itself among the frozen pavements of New York City, I walked to the David Zwirner Gallery, determined to tackle the art of Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist who has enhanced a lot of discussions in my surroundings these days. A line full of beanies and long coats greeted me, long enough to scare many who weren’t ready to be that dedicated to art.
After at least three hours of waiting, we were exposed to a small square room, where we were given 45 seconds in “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” a so-called infinity mirrored room. Many new art enthusiasts were grabbing their cameras and phones, waiting nervously to take a picture representing their short adventure, already ready to say that they had been changed irrevocably by the out-of-the-ordinary installation. Unfortunately, I was one of them, fidgeting with my iPhone case, my heart pounding to capture the millions of lights.
The installation included a small platform in the middle of an expanse of water and suspended lights. I lied down on the platform and took in the piece of art all around me, realizing the absurdity of our actions after a mere 15 seconds.
Instead of truly appreciating this 80-year-old artist, who influenced pop art and minimalism with her dense patterns of nets and polka dots and her intense, large-scale environments, we were focused on collecting her phenomenal atmospheres in our own mediums.
I realized the feeling of being out-of-space, of being surrounded by ancient, lit souls, maybe too late, for I only possessed 45 seconds in the room.
This exhibit made me afraid and frustrated, for we have become too obsessed with representation and social media. We are not able to want, desire, take pleasure in accidental beauties passing in front of our bodies each day. The phenomenon of Instagram and then Snapchat, the phenomenon of sharing our daily lives more instantly and on a more public surface, has deepened this lack of pleasure.
We all have experienced that moment when we take a picture of the food placed on our table at a restaurant before enjoying the details of the condiments or the exotic smells emanating from the plate, just to be able to show to the world what we ate.
The second exhibit, “Love is Calling,” reaffirmed my beliefs. Instead of appreciating the figures of colored polka dots, our souls, chained to representation, wandered around “capturing” each mirror with our phones, each dot in our squared cameras. At times, the phones we clutched seemed to be a far more concise representation of ourselves.
At the Louvre Museum, people rush to get to the “Mona Lisa” just to photograph it, leaving no room to appreciate the painting, and make us — those who choose immersing ourselves in art over capturing it — feel that we are not presented a masterpiece but a painting that might not deserve its full credit.
Not only does this habit diminish some artwork, but it also makes us forget other pieces of art. Indeed, the room where the “Mona Lisa” resides also includes pieces of pure Italian Renaissance, a haven for anyone partial to that period of human daily representation and gigantic venues.
At the David Zwirner Gallery, the isolated room is not the only entertainment. Twenty-seven large-scale paintings are exposed on long, white walls. They are ignored by the audience, who feels as if these other rooms are simply waiting rooms, warm refuges from the cold.
The audience doesn’t recognize the complementary value of these paintings. The side full of pastel and bright colors and subjects recurrently seen in Japan is part of and reveals a simpler side of Kusama’s art, showing us where her inspiration comes from.
Art appreciation fades away slowly but surely. To be really changed by art these days is very rare. At the Guggenheim Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, cameras are forbidden, even those with no flashes. I used to be upset, but now I am thankful, for I know some souls can dream in 45 seconds more faithfully.
Diane Bayeux is a College freshman studying English from Paris. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her @dianebayeux.