When fourth-year English student Justine Fajardo finished her last exam of the semester back in December, she rushed home, making it just in time for the members only pre-sale of the Infinity Mirrors exhibit coming to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) from March 3 to May 27. Since she was already a member, she thought there wouldn’t be a problem securing the tickets.
“I was really pumped. I was like, ‘OK, after my exam I’m going to get tickets, this is going to be great. This is going to be how I celebrate after finishing my exams,’” Fajardo said.
Little did she know she would have to wait almost nine hours.
After the AGO announced it would be one of the four major museums in North America to feature the well-known exhibit by Yayoi Kusama, a huge buzz on social media began across the city. This caused hundreds of thousands of people wanting to buy tickets to see the exhibit themselves.
“We knew right away when planning for the show that we wouldn’t be able to meet all of the demand,” said Herman Lo, AGO’s director of visitor experience. “We don’t have the space on-site to line everyone up and especially in the winter, it’s just not conducive.”
With all the high expectations, they wanted to make the ticket purchasing as convenient and easy as possible, so they ended up opting for an online queuing system, Lo said. Since there was no option to line up for physical tickets, everyone had no choice but to go online and wait for hours.
Fajardo was one of the students who experienced long wait times for tickets, but was still lucky enough to get them.
For many, luck was not on their side. Regardless of how long they waited, they left the virtual line empty handed.
“The numbers are just beyond everything,” Lo said. “We had 60,000 people at one point at the highest peak of the queue, that was just crazy.”
Second-year journalism student Catherine Abes first heard about the exhibit almost a year ago, and has been waiting for it ever since. Since she and her friends do not have an AGO membership, they had to wait for the general public tickets that went on sale from Jan. 16-19. She was one of the students who was on the queue for the entire four days, but was not able to purchase tickets due to the high volume of users on the website.
“When I got to 13,000th, I was so convinced that I was going to get it,” Abes said.
But every time she slowly moved up the queue, she said she felt as though it was a lost cause. “I was trying to be hopeful about it, but I knew logically there had to be a really big fluke for me to get tickets,” she added.
Third-year nursing student Camille Chavez had a similar experience. She tried purchasing tickets for three days, but was unsuccessful.
“I never got an email because I was always 19,000th out of how many,” Chavez said. “It’s frustrating because you’ll be put at the very end of the line, and then someone could be put at No. 1.”
She also said it’s disappointing knowing she put in the time and effort but did not get anything out of it.
“I kind of figured that after the first few days. I knew in the back of my mind, it’s not going to happen for me,” she said. “Even on the very last day, I still tried for two hours in the morning and I was crushed. It’s like you’re waiting for this one thing to happen, and it just never comes.”
After the first round of tickets went on sale to the public, Lo said they are still looking at ways to improve communications and make it clearer for people trying to purchase tickets to understand the whole process of the online queue. He said they’re also looking into ways to increase capacity and extra viewing times.
“We’re going to be continuously looking at these options, especially once the show opens. We have the reality of how it operates,” Lo said.
“Because it is a touring show, unfortunately, we won’t be able to extend the closing date, but within that closing date, there’s hours that we’re going to be looking at, and exploring to see if we can open up additional time slots.”
Even though both Abes and Chavez failed to purchase tickets, they are still thinking of testing their luck once again when the next round of tickets are available to the public on March 6.
“I’m going to try. I might as well. I like the idea (that) I could be the lucky one to get it,” Abes said. “That would be exciting.”
Compared to other blockbuster exhibits from the past, Lo said Infinity Mirrors is unprecedented in terms of the demands for tickets for a show that has not opened yet. More than 100,000 tickets have been issued.
“This is definitely a first for the AGO,” he said.