Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's exhibition You, Me and The Balloons is a colourful wonderland of inflatable inspiration: a suitable opener for a brand new type of arts centre.
A potentially game-changing cultural landmark for the UK has opened in style, with an installation by one of the world's most important living artists, which harnesses balloon art at scale to create something quite breathtaking.
We reported back in October how Manchester was getting the largest investment in a national cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 2000 help fund a major global destination for arts, music and culture. Well, that's all that happened to plan, other than the name, which has changed from Factory International to Aviva Studios, as part of a sponsorship deal.
Designed by Ellen van Loon, OMA partner and lead architect, the ultra-flexible building is based around vast, adaptable spaces that can be constantly reconfigured, enabling artists to develop works of invention and ambition, of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world.
The new venue will be commissioning and presenting a year-round programme by leading artists from across the world. And first up is You, Me and The Balloons, a new installation by the celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, ahead of its official opening in October.
You, Me and The Balloons invites visitors to immerse themselves in Kusama's psychedelic universe as they journey through a colourful landscape of large-scale inflatable sculptures, many standing over 10 metres tall or suspended from the 21-metre-high ceiling.
A giant pumpkin, inflatable dolls, mirrored spaces, and polkadot spheres are among the well-known motifs featured in the show.
"It would be interesting if people would experience the show as a wonderland," says the artist. "The experience of the scale is what's important. Inflatable works expanded my creative means in terms of scale that could not have been achieved by stuffed soft sculptures and the freedom of placing them up in the air."
"For me, the world is genuinely full of surprises," she adds. "It is not that I want to inspire a childlike awe or wonder, but to inspire through my genuine perception of the world."
The exhibition, Kusama's largest and most ambitious immersive environment to date, is open to the public until 28 August 2023. It has been designed especially for the vast new Warehouse space inside the complex. And it brings together for the first time a collection of Kusama's most significant inflatable artworks from the past 30 years, most of which have not been seen before in the UK.
It's also the first large-scale UK presentation of the artist's work since an acclaimed retrospective at Tate Modern in 2012.
Entering the exhibition, a tunnel leads you into a new iteration of The Hope of the Polka Dots Buried in Infinity will Eternally Cover the Universe (2019), a maze of large-scale biomorphic balloons rising floor to ceiling. Stairs within the installation lead to a roof platform offering panoramic views of the exhibition before descending into the main Warehouse space.
Also on show is Kusama's first balloon series, Dots Obsession (1996/2023), reimagined for the 65-metre-long Warehouse as a constellation of large inflatable polka-dot shapes suspended in mid-air. In Dots Obsession (2013), visitors can enter one of Kusama's renowned infinity mirror rooms located inside a large red inflatable dome.
A further element of the exhibition is Song of a Manhattan Suicide Addict (2007), a video projection showing Kusama singing about her experience of depression, along with a new presentation of the artist's inflatable Clouds (2023), created especially for the installation.
Positioned on the floor, these soft sculptures invite visitors, for the first time, to sit or lie on the works. In the colossal work A Bouquet of Love I Saw in the Universe (2021), which spans over 11 metres, visitors can immerse themselves in an inflatable forest of giant glowing pink tentacles.
Kusama's career spans eight decades, and she is widely recognised as one of today's most important living artists. Her signature motifs and materials, such as repeated polka dots, brightly coloured pumpkins and kaleidoscopic Infinity Mirror Rooms, have transcended the traditional art establishment to become part of global popular culture.
This exhibition is accompanied by a new catalogue from Factory International Publishing, edited by Phoebe Greenwood, Factory International Curatorial Associate, with new contributions from Yayoi Kusama, Philippa Perry, Professor Anil Seth, Akira Tatehata, Franck Gautherot and Seungduk Kim.
You, Me and The Balloons is presented as part of Manchester International Festival 2023, which is running until 16 July.
The visual arts programme for MIF23 also includes The Find, a city-wide installation by Ryan Gander; a new performance work by Tino Sehgal at the National Football Museum and the Whitworth titled This Entry; the first commission in a new collaborative project exploring art and football by former Manchester United footballer Juan Mata and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
The festival will also feature a live photographic performance by award-winning British photographer Benji Reid and a new exhibition at the Whitworth titled Economics the Blockbuster: It's Not Business as Usual: a selection of extraordinary art projects that operate as real-world economic systems.
Both the Manchester International Festival and the landmark new cultural venue are run by Factory International, and MIF23 provides the first opportunity for audiences to experience the venue ahead of its official opening in October.
Factory International will commission and present a year-round programme of original creative work, music and special events at its new venue, online, and internationally through its network of co-commissioners and partners.
Yayoi Kusama: You, Me and The Balloons is at The Warehouse, Aviva Studios, Water Street, Manchester, M3 4JQ until 28 August. Standard tickets are £15, and affordable tickets are £10 & £7.50. You can book tickets at factoryinternational.org.