Back in 2019, the Toronto Guardian enthusiastically reported on the Art Gallery of Ontario’s acquisition of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity room “Let’s Survive Together”. “Survive” was added to the AGO collection shortly following a landmark temporary exhibit the year prior, that saw lineups snaking practically all the way out to Dundas Street.
Celebrations over “Toronto’s own Kusama” were short lived, however, as certain. world. events. soon shut down the AGO and made crowding into a narrow mirrored space with a group of strangers an entirely unappealing prospect. Lo and behold, a few years later and the AGO is up and running at full capacity, and Survive is now available for anyone to visit, any time.
The first time I encountered a Kusama infinity room I did not know it was a Kusama infinity room. I was at Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, wandering its contemporary art collection, when I spotted a slightly ajar door leading into a brightly lit space. Curious, I pushed my way in, and instantly found myself in a sea of infinite phalluses. The room, bounded on all sides by floor-to-ceiling mirrors, featured hundreds of stuffed fabric polka dot phalluses. It was silly, it was fun. There was no lineup to get in.
The next time I encountered Kusama was the AGO’s landmark 2018 exhibition, featuring six of Kusama’s trademark infinity mirror rooms. Lineups were out the door. The Instagram hashtag #infiniteKUSAMA was overwhelmed. I waited 30 to 45 minutes for each room, for sixty seconds per room. It was glorious. I managed to resist the temptation to snap photos.
The acquisition of a single permanent Kusama necessarily changes the dynamic. Today, any guest of the AGO can arrive and book a Survive time slot at the kiosk conveniently located in the main atrium. While there is unfortunately no way to pre-book online (presumably to avoid the strain of cancellations), it is easy and quick, and from what I’ve seen there are always time slots available. Nervous AGO-goers can choose to call ahead and ask the ticket desk the odds of getting into the room on any given day.
The worst part about “Let’s Survive Together” is its location – shunted off in a far corner, with no directional markers or signs pointing the way there. I almost missed my time slot from running back and forth trying to figure out where it was hidden. One would think that the AGO, aware this is their hot new item, would be at pains to funnel people towards it. For now, at least, I recommend arriving early enough to get lost on the way.
As before, you get sixty seconds in the infinity room, in a group of up to four people. In theory, on busier days the AGO can force you to share the space with a random stranger or strangers. The day I went, however, I did not see a single attendee forced to join up with anyone else. There were single people, pairs, and groups of 3-4 all taking their own turns, even though there was a decent lineup trailing out into the AGO’s spacious Galleria Italia.
As for the experience itself, Survive is not quite as formidable as some of the brightly coloured/galactic rooms available in 2018, but it’s still a singular experience. Survive has Kusama’s standard mirrored walls, accompanied by dozens of mirrored orbs suspended from the ceiling and arranged on the floor. The most interesting feature is a mirrored column inside the room, itself containing more mirrored orbs as well as pane mirrors, reflecting the larger room. It’s a dizzying experience, and the sixty second limitation is actually beneficial, in the sense that you don’t have time to get used to it before being asked to step out.
I expect that one day, as in Rotterdam, the hype will slow down and Survive will be freely accessible without time limitations. For now, however, it’s an exciting new addition to the AGO, and is sure to become a regular part of my AGO visits thanks to the convenience of same-day booking. And remember – the AGO Annual Pass, at $35.00 for unlimited visits in one year, is only ten dollars more than a standard single-day admission. It’s a brilliant pricing model that encourages repeat visits and a steady stream of visitors to one of Canada’s top galleries.
Read more about the AGO’s Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Together here.