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Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms Made Accessible to People with Disabilities for First Time

February 22, 2017

Early on in preparations for their forthcoming blockbuster exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” staffers at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden were met with a new challenge. The ramps and platforms inside the Japanese artist’s famed “Infinity” rooms—chambers that envelop viewers in an illusion of infinity with mirrors, LED lights, colored spots, or polka-dotted sculptures—are too narrow to meet ADA standards for wheelchair accessibility. Some individuals with disabilities would not be able to access and experience those works.

Given that the ramps cannot be modified (the rooms come with detailed instructions in Japanese that prescribe how they must be assembled and presented) and the Hirshhorn as a public institution is legally bound and ideologically driven to exhibit art that can be accessed by all, they needed a solution. And they found it: virtual reality.

“We needed to find out how we could allow people to experience the ‘Infinity’ rooms, without actually going in,” says Hirshhorn director Melissa Chiu. The closest thing to experiencing these artworks in person, they found, would be a virtual reality simulation that would replicate its visual elements within a headset. As precise, 360-degree experiences, Kusama’s “Infinity” rooms are ideally suited to VR technology.

Hirshhorn time-based media specialist and coordinator Drew Doucette proposed and helmed the initiative, which has seen three of Kusama’s works—All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016), Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity (2009), and Infinity Mirror Room–Phalli’s Field (1965/2016)—translated into VR. The experience is accessible through a smartphone app realized in partnership with Samsung, which provided VR headsets and S7 Edge phones for use within the exhibition. It is exclusively available within the exhibition, and only available to people with disabilities who cannot access the rooms.

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