On View: Yayoi Kusama, Fireflies on the Water
Jun 12, 2012

Art installation with thousands of small lights and mirrors

Yayoi Kusama, Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights, and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Postwar Committee and the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee and partial gift of Betsy Wittenborn Miller  2003.322a-tttttttt

As a graduate student in art history, I find myself constantly thinking about a work of art in relation to history, culture, and art historical scholarship. During my internship, I have been reading up in preparation for the exhibition Yayoi Kusama at the Whitney. I have read about her obsessive practice in which she painstakingly paints polka dots or glues airmail stickers to canvas. Since childhood, she has had hallucinations of vast expanses of dots, visions that have continually informed her work.

After all my reading, I went to see Kusama’s Fireflies on the Water, an installation that is on view in the Museum’s Lobby Gallery. When I entered through the slim white door and walked into the dark space glittering with lights, I forgot everything that I have pored over. As the work immersed me in what appeared to be an endless landscape of floating lights, I was overcome with a simple yet intense delight that I do not often experience when I consider a work of art in all of its complexities with my usual scholarly approach. The delight I felt in Fireflies on the Water is a sensation to be reveled in. 

By Elizabeth Rooklidge, Interpretation Intern