Bracing for large crowds to its upcoming retrospective of artist Yayoi Kusama, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will release free timed passes starting Monday, Feb. 13, and continuing every Monday through the exhibition’s 11-week run.
The Japanese artist known for her fascination with polka dots is extremely popular, but that’s just one reason the museum will use passes for “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors.” The show features six of Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms, small spaces that can only accommodate a few visitors simultaneously. It’s the immersive nature of these works that pushed the Smithsonian’s modern and contemporary art museum to use crowd-controlling passes for the first time in its history, according to Deputy Director Elizabeth Duggal.
“The nature of the exhibition means only a few people, really three at a time, can experience a room,” Duggal said. “You can’t rush the experience. We needed to be thoughtful to maximize our visitors’ experience.”
The general public can access the passes for the opening weekend — Feb. 23-27 — on Feb. 13 at noon on the museum’s website (hirshhorn.si.edu/kusama). The museum’s e-news subscribers will gain access at 11 a.m., a one-time perk.
Then, every Monday at noon for the next 11 weeks, passes for the following week will be released. On Feb. 20, the museum will release passes for Feb. 28-March 6; on Feb. 27, it will release passes for March 7-13; and so on. The show continues through May 14.
The passes are in 15-minute increments from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The museum closes at 5:30 p.m. The Hirshhorn will distribute a limited number of walk-up passes each day.
The week-by-week release allows the Hirshhorn to be “nimble and flexible” in response to visitor behavior, Duggal said. “We can adjust, see how long people are staying, and how people are engaging with the art,” she said.
The Hirshhorn has contracted with Tickets.com to provide the passes. It is not the same vendor that provides passes for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the newest Smithsonian branch, which has struggled with visitor demand for its free passes since it opened Sept. 24.
Duggal said the Hirshhorn has worked with visitor services specialists for a year to be ready for what she expects will be a record-setting show. It will launch a temporary coffee shop and visitor facility on its plaza, and it has recruited 120 volunteers and visitor attendants to assist guests. The museum will also increase the number of free lockers it provides for coats, backpacks and other visitor items.
Hirshhorn members will not need a pass but will have access to a special members’ line (as well as to the exhibition preview). And the museum will offer tours to community, school and corporate groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m.
“Our main goal is for each visitor to enjoy their experience,” Duggal said. “People interpret the infinity rooms differently, but it’s such a positive energy. It brings a smile to people’s faces.”