What's a 9-hour wait compared to Infinity? Everything you need to know about the AGO's Kusama show

For the AGO, nothing compares to Yayoi. Tickets to Infinity Mirrors went on sale to the public this week.

Tickets to Infinity Mirrors went on sale to the public this week

Kusama in YELLOW TREE/Living Room 2010 (Courtesy of the AGO)

Update! Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is now in full swing at the AGO, so if you landed here looking for ticket info, here's the latest: Same-day tickets are now being made available on site at the AGO with a new batch released daily at 10 a.m. For advance tickets, head to the AGO website March 6 starting at 10 a.m. AGO members will get another chance at securing their advance tickets March 20, with that sale also starting at 10 a.m. Get all the details here. Now, on to the story...

Look, I'm sorry.

More than 50,000 people tried to get tickets to Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors Tuesday morning, and I scored a pair within two hours.

I believed the hype. I didn't think I'd get them. I figured I'd spend 12 hours staring at the AGO website, researching the cost of making my own DIY Obliteration Room to pass the time. What's one day wasted compared to a chance to see infinity?

Because Kusama, at 88, has never been bigger. No female artist alive earns more at auction. Her signature dots have appeared on Louis Vuitton bags — she's even styled George Clooney — and the show arriving at the Art Gallery of Ontario this spring is a massive retrospective of more than a half century of work.

So far, the travelling exhibition has broken attendance records everywhere it's gone: Washington, D.C., Seattle. In Los Angeles, where it last appeared at The Broad, tickets sold out within an hour. It opens at the AGO March 3 — the lone Canadian stop on the exhibition's North American tour.

So far, the AGO says that demand has been unprecedented. There have been two rounds of exclusive pre-sales already, where members snatched up 51,000 tickets. Another members-only sale opens in February (9,000 member spots remain).

As for the general public, the time is now.

Yayoi Kusama. Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013. (Courtesy of the AGO)

What you need to know about the public sale

Every day through January 19, the AGO website will be releasing a new block of tickets online.

There are just 40,000 tickets in all, and the museum will be portioning out a fraction of that sum through Friday. Expect roughly 10,000 to be available every morning, and users can reserve a maximum of four, with adult admission costing $30 (plus $2 service charge). 

The AGO says they're making the tickets available in batches so that people have a chance at tickets every day of the sale, as advertised. But still, it's just a chance. 

Sure, there are 40,000 public tickets — but according to the AGO, a whopping 50,000 users were simultaneously online Tuesday when the sale was at its peak.

Yayoi Kusama. The Obliteration Room, 2002 to present. Furniture, white paint, and dot stickers. Dimensions variable. Collaboration between Yayoi Kusama and Queensland Art Gallery. Commissioned Queensland Art Gallery, Australia. Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2012. Collection: Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia © Yayoi Kusama. Photograph: QAGOMA Photography (Courtesy of the AGO)

What to expect once you're in line

So how do you get yours?

There are no guarantees, but you'll likely want to be online right when the sale begins. The queue opens daily at 10 a.m., and despite a variety of conspiracy theories you'll find floating around Twitter, the AGO website doesn't care if you open the page at 5 a.m. or 5 minutes before go time.

As Herman Lo, the AGO's director of visitor experience explains: "There's really no way for our system to precisely know the nanosecond of when people join in." As such, he says: "It's a draw process."

As soon as the clock flips over, everyone online is assigned a number at random. And according to the AGO, more than 18,000 people were logged on at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

I recently purchased tickets for Hamilton in New York and even for that I didn't have to wait so long!- Kate Dupuis

In my case, I started the morning behind 1,872 other users.

Tanis Crooks, who also signed on at 10 a.m., says she had more than 20,000 in front of her. That's significantly higher than the AGO's number, but she still managed to buy a pair of tickets after a nine-hour wait.

Kate Dupuis wasn't so lucky, despite being in 9,739th place. The ticket system lets you sign up for an email alert when it's your time to buy, and she was too busy with the necessary details of parenting a toddler to see the message in time.

"I was very naïve," she tells CBC Arts by email. "I recently purchased tickets for Hamilton in New York and even for that I didn't have to wait so long!"

With no guarantee you'll even get through the line, what makes the wait worthwhile — never mind the further waiting you'll do once you're through the doors?

Infinite exposure

Yayoi Kusama. Infinity Mirror Room— Phalli’s Field,1965. Installation view in Floor Show, Castellane Gallery, New York, 1965. Sewn stuffed cotton fabric, board, and mirrors. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner, New York. © Yayoi Kusama. Photo: Eikoh Hosoe (Courtesy of the AGO)

The exhibition coming to the AGO includes art from the breadth of Kusama's career — paintings, sculptures, prints — but it's her "Infinity Rooms" that are no doubt drawing the crowds.

Visiting one is meant to put you face to face with the great beyond — and yourself. They're mirrored installations, infinity in a cube the size of a "tiny house."

Five of the six rooms appearing at the AGO are contained boxes that can only hold 2-4 people maximum. The experience offers a paradox: the feeling of being very much a part of the artwork itself — as you see yourself reflected in the glass — but also completely insignificant, adrift in an endless expanse of stars and/or pumpkins.

Yayoi Kusama. All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Wood, mirror, plastic, black glass, LED. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London. © Yayoi Kusama. Photo by Cathy Carver (Courtesy of the AGO)
Yayoi Kusama. All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016. Wood, mirror, plastic, black glass, LED. Collection of the artist. (Courtesy of the AGO)

Kusama began building her Infinity Rooms in the '60s, and the AGO show promises to walk you through their history, right up to her most recent, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins (2016).

If you don't know them by name, you know them by sight. They're endlessly Instagrammed — and not just by pop stars including Katy Perry and Ciara. Adele even filmed a video for "When We Were Young" inside Kusama's "The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away."

"The photos I've seen, it looks like you are in a dream," says Crooks.

"I just got really into the sparkles, to be honest," laughs Dena Allen, who secured two tickets by Tuesday afternoon. When she first saw photos of the Infinity Rooms online, she thought: "Yeah, I want to be a part of that."

Krista de Leon got her AGO tickets after an unsuccessful bid to see the show at The Broad. Her friends in L.A. had been Instagramming their trips to the exhibition, which is how she discovered the artist in the first place, and she'll be going for the 'gram as well.

"My friends and I have to devise a plan," she says, "because you only get, what is it? 10 minutes in each room or something?

Actually, it's 20-30 seconds per room — after an estimated 20-minute wait.

"Oh, goodness," she says. "Yeah, we'll have to figure it out."

And Instagram is usually brought up any time the living legend is discussed. Though she's been active since the '50s, it seems she's never been more famous than now — and social media is part of that story.

Yayoi Kusama. Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity, 2009. Wood, mirror, plastic, acrylic, LED, black glass, and aluminum. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner, New York. © Yayoi Kusama (Courtesy of the AGO)

The Infinity Rooms are notoriously selfie-able, making every visitor a potential publicist. That's further grassroots exposure for an artist whose work has, in turn, become a sought-after attraction at galleries around the globe. At the same time Infinite Kusama was at The Broad, you could also find her work at David Zwirner in New York City, The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art in Australia and Kusama's very own museum, which she opened this past fall in Tokyo.

Now, the pictures will just happen to be geotagged "Toronto."

What to do if you don't get tickets

For those who don't make it through the lines this week, the AGO insists that there's hope.

If you're especially dotty for Kusama, the museum has been advertising volunteer opportunities during the run of the show.

Same-day tickets are probably the more practical option, though. They'll be available once the exhibition opens. Says Lo: "They're going to be very limited in nature, maybe 100 or 200." 

Further details are TBD, though he says the AGO is working to avoid outdoor lineups. Toronto weather is unpredictable enough, never mind in March. Long early morning queues were the norm at previous tour stops.

And while there's no guarantee of further ticket blocks becoming available to the public after this week, Lo says that the AGO will "continue to look at ways to increase capacity" once the exhibition is in swing.

Yayoi Kusama. Infinity Mirrored Room – Love Forever, 1966/1994, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Wood, mirrors, metal, and light bulbs. Photo by Cathy Carver (Courtesy of the AGO)

The museum has a larger floorplan than the venues it's appeared previously, he notes. Also, they'll be investigating extended hours — which have already been stretched to 9 p.m. weekdays because the timing of the exhibition is so strict, only allowing so many people in at once.

But that's still months in the future. There are still a few days to try your luck with the public sale. Then try, and try again.

"The pieces are so unique and definitely unlike anything I have ever seen before," says Kate Dupuis, who was back online Wednesday after striking out on the first day of the sale.

"Given that I was so tantalizingly close to securing tickets yesterday, I am even more determined to try again!"

Yayoi Kusama. Dots Obsession – Love Transformed Into Dots, 2007, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Mixed media installation. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore; Victoria Miro, London; David Zwirner, New York. © Yayoi Kusama. Photo by Cathy Carver. (Courtesy of the AGO)

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors. March 3 – May 27 at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.