Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s Seeing Through Light exhibition extended until March
The Celestial Light section at Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s Seeing Through Light exhibition – which has been extended until March 26 – is causing a splash at Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al Saadiyat gallery on Saadiyat Island in more ways than one.
The standout feature is the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life (2011). A walkway with water on either side leads visitors through a darkened space aglow with hundreds of twinkling lights dangling from the ceiling. Reflections in the mirrored walls and water give visitors the feeling of floating through space. The 50,000 people who have visited since the show opened on November 5 have been so disorientated by the sensory overload that there have been a few tumbles into the water – at the rate of about one a day, we’re reliably told.
Robert Simwembe is a Ugandan security guard who has been on duty, alerting visitors about the water. “Yes, we have people falling off the walkway into the water,” he says. “Because of the excitement, they step in the water a lot. And they sometimes put their feet in to prove to themselves – is it really water?”
But Simwembe doesn’t think any of the visitors have particularly minded becoming soggy. He adds: “Everything is good and they are happy.”
Being on duty in a room that fills people with such euphoria has been a happy experience for him, too.
“There are a lot of smiling faces,” he says. “They keep turning around and around, to see all the lights. It takes away the stress of their day. When the people smile, I smile back and it makes me feel good.”
The infinity room and the 18 other pieces on display at the light-themed exhibition are a showcase of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s permanent collection. It’s a sneak peek of what’s to come when the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi opens on Saadiyat Island in two years.
The exhibition illustrates how the museum wants to convey art as an experience, not just as objects.
“It is no secret that the Infinity Mirrored Room has been the star of the show,” says Maisa Al Qassimi, museum programmes manager for Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority. “People have posted hundreds of photos and videos of it, taken selfies when they are in it and blogged about it numerous of times; it was described over and over again as an ‘experience’ and a ‘journey’, rather than as a mere work of art, by almost every visitor, which is the best feedback any art exhibition could receive from its guests.”
Rachel Down, 34, has been back to the exhibition twice so far, at the request of her two children: 3-year-old Sakr and 6-year-old Yousef. “My kids love the light cube room with the mirrors, and they keep asking me to go back. So we have to walk through the whole thing again to get to the last bit. They get very excited about it.
“Any pictures you take there are amazing, and it’s just exciting to be inside something that’s from the Guggenheim,” she says.
But walking around the light exhibition with young visitors has its downside. Hugo Laflann, 39, and Naomi Kelso, 33, visited with their 2-year-old daughter, Annabel. “She wanted to touch everything and you’re not allowed to do that,” says Laflann. “A stroller and a little bit of Peppa Pig – that helped.”
Mum Naomi wanted to see Kusama’s infinity room after being impressed by another of the artist’s installations – the obliteration room, where children stick coloured dots on white walls – on a recent trip home to Australia.
“Her art installations make me question different perspectives of myself,” she says.
“I’m now really looking forward to the Louvre and the Guggenheim opening,” says Zayed University student Sarana Alvraiki. “This exhibition is amazing – it’s like going on a journey through the stars.”
The room’s celestial theme was also picked up by teacher Gareth Howell, 32, who has now visited the exhibition twice. “I read that the room is meant to resemble the universe and it certainly felt like that, especially after watching Interstellar [the 2014 Christopher Nolan movie]. “I’ve taught in schools before with sensory rooms, which help stimulate autistic children’s emotions. It also reminded me of that.”
• Seeing Through Light is at Manarat Al Saadiyat until March 26. Visit saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae for more details
Updated: January 25, 2015 04:00 AM