See Yayoi Kusama’s new show at the New York Botanical Garden


Photography Robert Benson

Even if you have a passing knowledge of contemporary art, you’ve probably seen the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Maybe you saw his polka dots ball at Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade last year. Maybe you were lucky enough to catch it spellbinding retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2012. You might even have had the chance, after stand in line for hours – for taking a selfie in one of her iconic mirrored Infinity Rooms.

new york botanical garden kusama
Yayoi Kusama in “Flower Obsession”.

Yuzuke Miyazake

The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) further fuels our 21st century obsession with this nonagenarian artist with his new show, “Kusama: Cosmic Nature”. Originally scheduled for 2020 but postponed due to COVID-19, the exhibition opened on Saturday and will run until October 31, 2021 (an appropriate date, given Kusama’s famous pumpkin-based works).

And in many ways, “Kusama: Cosmic Nature,” which showcases new site-specific works in NYBG gardens and greenhouses and a range of other pieces never before seen outside of Japan, is a perfect fit for our current stage. pandemic: it’s mostly outdoors, and Kusama’s signature polka-dot patterns, mirrored surfaces and undulating shapes are a happy return to the playfulness and interactivity we have so missed this year. last.

new york botanical garden kusama
“I want to fly to the universe”, Yayoi Kusama, 2020.

Photography Robert Benson

Some fans may not be aware of Kusama’s deep and lifelong connection to nature. She grew up in a family nursery in Matsumoto, Japan, and memories of pumpkins, violets and other flowers there have surfaced throughout her art. “[In this show] Kusama fans can dig deeper and see many of his early works, ”said Karen Daubmann, vice president of exhibitions and audience engagement at NYBG, noting a sketchbook of peony designs from the time when Kusama was 16 who is exposed. “This is a wonderfully wide assortment of works combining all of nature’s themes while being displayed in an incredible living museum.”

New installations, all created by Kusama and his studio in close partnership with the NYBG team, explain this through the line. There’s “Dancing Pumpkin,” a perennial octopus-like creature in bronze with yellow and black polka dots that holds its place outside the 90-foot-tall Palm Dome of the NYBG Haupt Conservatory (“It was wonderful to be wake up and receive early morning emails from the Tokyo team containing images of small models that Kusama had created of them, ”says Daubmann), as well as“ I Want to Fly the Universe, ”a red polka dot sun and white, apparently caught in the middle of the boogie, which sits atop the reflective pool outside the NYBG Visitor Center.

Yayoi Kusama New York Botanical Garden Installation of the Narcissus Garden
The “Garden of Narcissus” of Kusama.

Robert Benson Photography

While browsing the 250-acre site, visitors can have spontaneous encounters with Kusama’s work. The 1,400 stainless steel spheres ‘Narcissus Garden’ (an iconic installation by Kusama) floats in a 230-foot-long water feature in the Native Plant Garden, moving with the changes of the wind and reflecting the surrounding landscape; and polyester printed with red and white polka dots, rubber bands and aluminum staples wrap around existing tree trunks as part of “Ascension Polka Dots”. Inside, the gallery spaces house a selection of paintings and works on paper. All the works, says Daubmann, “give our visitors time to stop and think, to be part of the discovery of the work of art. These moments, along with the bright and happy polka dot patterns, all seem like what we need after a year of sadness and loneliness. “

new york botanical garden kusama
“Ascent of peas on trees”, 2002/2021, Yayoi Kusama.

Photography Robert Benson

Of course, NYBG gardeners created natural displays to complement Kusama’s playful work. The curatorial team looked for plants that could speak to both Kusama’s education and the aesthetics of his works. Cheerful blooms, like sunflowers, daisies and pansies abound, as well as begonias and polka-dot tulips (especially near a towering 2007 installation of coiled mixed flowers, “Hymn of Life — Tulips”). Plantings will change seasonally, so spring visitors can come back in the fall to add pumpkins and chrysanthemums.

And Kusama lovers are not afraid: there will be an Infinity Room. “Infinity Mirrored Room — Illusion Inside the Heart” is an outdoor installation whose colored glass interior will hopefully accommodate a limited number of visitors with timed tickets starting this summer – no queues required.

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