Published: September 24, 2019
By W.A. Demers
WESTPORT, CONN. – Westport has a museum of contemporary art.
Doors opened to the public on September 22 with an inaugural presentation of two seminal works by Yayoi Kusama – “Infinity Mirror Room: Where the Lights in My Heart Go” and “Narcissus Garden.”
It is a heady new chapter for the former Westport Arts Center, which has taken up home at 19 Newtown Turnpike in a circa 1920s building once used by Martha Stewart for television production and which sat abandoned for some time. Straddling both Westport and Norwalk, the building has been transformed into two expansive galleries, a multi-functional education studio, a members lounge in which the organization plans to showcase a rare book collection in the future, a bookstore and a gift shop.
And in an inaugural coup by the new 501(c)(3) organization, members, neighbors, friends and new visitors were able to experience two of Kusama’s famous installations viewable together for the first time on the East Coast.
While ICA Boston opened what it characterized as Kusama’s “most immersive ‘Infinity Mirror Room (2013)'” a couple of days later, the 10-by-10-foot stainless steel and aluminum cube (2016) at MoCA Westport is just one of 20 such installations around the world, according to Liz Leggett, exhibition manager.
A darling of Instagramers the world over – #kusamawestport – the polished steel chambers with mirrored interiors are punctuated with small holes in walls and ceiling, allowing natural light to penetrate inside. A visitor stepping into the chamber is instantly surrounded by the celestial effect of that light, which the 90-year-old Japanese artist calls a “subtle planetarium,” in a sensation not unlike standing or sitting in a continuously expanding universe.
Leggett noted at a press preview prior to the museum’s opening that one enters the cube through a low doorway, the need to bend down paying homage to the Japanese tea room ceremony in which all have to bow, bringing everyone to the same level.
The artist’s “Narcissus Garden” (1996-present) is not new to Connecticut, a smaller version having been installed at New Canaan’s Glass House in 2016. Westport MoCA’s is larger, however, featuring 1,200 of the stainless steel spheres that have a diameter just under a foot and weigh about two pounds each.
Leggett said the museum worked with the artist in Japan by sending her a blueprint of the gallery space, and Kusama dictated the resulting composition of this installation. Kusama’s “Narcissus Garden” originated in 1966, when in a kind of guerrilla art move, the artist created one at the Venice Biennale, offering the spheres for $2 each. Displayed en masse indoors or out, iterations of “Narcissus Garden,” each uniquely arrayed, have been presented around the world. This installation will be up at Westport MoCA until February, and another will be featured at New York’s Botanical Gardens in 2020.
“One of the most exciting aspects of what we are presenting in our galleries is the cultural and educational opportunity it offers to so many.” Said executive director Amanda Innes. “We are seeing visitors of all kinds – from avid collectors to enthusiastic educators to early discoverers – embrace the electricity of this experience as well as want to be a part of where it will lead us next.”
On October 5, the museum plans to launch its winter 2019-20 concert season with classical and jazz artists, such as the American String Quartet and Kenny Barron. The organization will also be celebrating the return of the Heida Hermanns International Music Competition, which has been on hiatus.
For additional information, www.mocawestport.org or 203-222-7070.
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