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How to survive the Yayoi Kusama show at the Hirshhorn Museum

The “Infinity” rooms at the Hirshhorn Museum have attracted record-breaking crowds. (Courtesy of David Zwirner, N.Y. © Yayoi Kusama)

If you’re hoping the hype surrounding the Hirshhorn Museum’s “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” exhibition will die down soon, think again.

Given the record-breaking crowds, the museum has expanded hours on Wednesday nights and allocated more timed passes for same-day walk-ups. But those planning to see the retrospective of the wildly popular Japanese artist shouldn’t sit around too long: The expectation is that interest in the exhibition will remain high, meaning that visitors should be ready to brave long lines and waits, regardless of whether they go this month or next — and especially if they go on weekends.

Here are a few tips on what to expect and how to prepare:

Kusama’s mirror rooms attract record crowds to Hirshhorn

Go during the week and arrive on time. The best time to visit the exhibition is usually at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday or Wednesday, said museum spokeswoman Allison Peck. Given the crowds on weekends, it can take two to three hours to see all six of Kusama’s kaleidoscopic infinity rooms. Regardless of when you visit, the museum recommends you arrive at the time printed on your pass.

Leave large bags at home. Visitors form lines outside the museum based on their entry time, but once you’re inside, you have to line up again to enter the actual exhibition. If you take a detour to store a bag, you're going to lose your place in line. Don’t worry about your purse or coat appearing in photos. You’re asked to drop those by the door before heading inside a room.

Eat before you go. Outside the Hirshhorn, there’s a pop-up cafe by local gelato and coffee shop Dolcezza, but the museum operates like an airport when it comes to bringing liquids inside. If you bring a water bottle, you’ll be asked to throw it away or empty it out. You can’t eat inside the building, so don’t plan to nibble on snacks while you're in line.

Prepare to be inside each room for only 20 to 30 seconds. The Hirshhorn limits how much time you can spend inside each installation. On Sunday afternoon, that time was limited to 20 to 30 seconds, a short amount for those who want to snap photos and lose themselves in the mirrors. Some resourceful visitors made the most of their time by getting their camera up and ready before the doors even swung open.

Go in groups of two or three. “When you enter one of the infinity rooms, it’s not so much the visual repetition that stuns you,” wrote The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott. “Rather, it’s the solitude.” Not anymore. Given the large crowds, the museum asks visitors to enter the installations in groups. If you're visiting alone, that could mean experiencing them with strangers, who might be disruptive, taking selfies or making Boomerang videos. (Even worse: They might request a photo. In 20 seconds, one of my colleagues was asked to take not one, but two photos of a fellow museum-goer.) Go with people you know, and set ground rules about photos before stepping in.

Wear comfortable shoes, because you’ll be standing for a while. Here’s how the lines worked on Sunday afternoon: You lined up outside and were allowed in at your entry time. Then you lined up inside, right by the exhibition’s entrance. That line led to another line that was farther inside. After that, you were allowed into the actual exhibition, where you had to get in even more lines for the individual installations. You can ask museum staff for a stool — though I didn’t see anyone resorting to this — and you’re not allowed to sit on the floor. Picture a weekend trip to Trader Joe’s, but with lots of cameras and no one holding a sign that says “The line starts here.”

Figure out which rooms you want to see most, and visit those first. The exhibition has a natural flow, but you don’t have to see each installation in consecutive order. On Sunday, the immersive installations had much longer lines than those viewed through a peephole. The non-infinity-room parts of the exhibition, meanwhile, were being used mostly as a walkway from one installation to the next. If you're with a group, take turns and get a full understanding of Kusama’s work: One person can wait in the longer line while the other explores the rest of the exhibition.

Give full disclosure to whoever is accompanying you. Taking a buddy to check out an exhibition is usually a lax affair. But this isn’t your typical museum experience. During peak times, you’ll probably wait in line for an hour or two, only to spend a few minutes inside the actual infinity rooms. If you’re going with friends who’ve never heard of Kusama — or don’t have Instagram — explain what may lie ahead. This also probably isn’t the ideal setting for a first date, particularly on weekends. People can get testy, and what should be a contemplative experience can at times become surprisingly stressful.

This post has been updated.

Read more:

— Snap a selfie inside Yayoi Kusama’s mirror rooms. But take a moment to reflect.

— An exhibition of the beloved Kusama with everything but Kusama herself

— Lines for the Kusama exhibit at the Hirshhorn appear infinite