Life Style

NY Botanical Garden Offers Once-In-A-Lifetime Yayoi Kusama Exhibition

A blockbuster outdoor and indoor exhibition of the work of internationally celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature, will open April 10 at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx—the exhibition’s exclusive venue—and will remain on display through October 31.

Postponed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition includes four experiences debuting at the garden and is installed across the garden’s landscape, in and around its Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and in its LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building.

The exhibition, related programs and accompanying publication reveal Kusama’s lifelong fascination with the natural world and its countless manifestations beginning in her childhood, spent in the greenhouses and fields of her family’s seed nursery in Matsumoto, Japan. By integrating seasonal horticultural displays, KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature further illuminates the power of nature that pervades the artist’s practice and  work.

Among the works created for the exhibition is Flower Obsession (2017/2021), Kusama’s first-ever obliteration greenhouse. Visitors may apply coral-colored floral stickers to the greenhouse’s clear-paned walls and interior objects, thus transforming it, with the repeating patterns and forms of flowers representing the concepts of obliteration, infinity and eternity.

Another new work, Dancing Pumpkin (2020), on the conservatory lawn, is a 16-foot-high bronze sculpture painted in black and yellow. It is sited in an immersive landscape of river birches, flowering plants, grasses and ferns, a setting inspired by the sculpture itself and the birch forests near Kusama’s childhood home.

Also new are I Want to Fly to the Universe (2020), a 13-foot-high, bright, purple-tentacled floral form with a vivid yellow primordial face in the Visitor Center Reflecting Pool, and Infinity Mirrored Room—Illusion Inside the Heart (2020), an outdoor installation reflecting its environs, currently on view only from the exterior, with interior access slated for the summer. 

Narcissus Garden (1966/2021), featuring 1,400 stainless steel spheres each nearly 12 inches in diameter, is installed in the 230-foot-long water feature of the Native Plant Garden. The spheres float on the water’s surface, moved by wind and currents, each mirroring the surrounding environment.

In Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2002/2021), soaring trees adorned in vibrant red with white polka dots pop in the garden’s landscape.

In the conservatory, My Soul Blooms Forever (2019)—colossal polka-dotted flowers made of stainless steel and painted in dramatic colors—greets visitors under the dome of the Palms of the World Gallery.

In the conservatory’s Seasonal Exhibition Galleries, the pink-and-gold mosaic Starry Pumpkin (2015) is featured in a woodland garden of foliage and flowers that harmonize with the sculpture’s pink polka dots. In the Conservatory Courtyard Hardy Pool, the exuberantly colored and patterned sculpture Hymn of Life—Tulips (2007), depicting outsized, fiberglass flowers, is positioned among water lilies and other seasonal aquatic plantings. The Courtyard also features plantings—including an array of tulips in spring and colorful annuals in summer—that complement the sculpture.

Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity (2017), installed in the Visitor Center Gallery, comprises a glass cube reflecting an infinity of glowing polka-dotted pumpkins within it. Viewed from the outside, the installation changes over time as pumpkins illuminate and then fade to darkness in a meditative choreography.

Kusama has said of pumpkins, “My pumpkins, beloved of all the plants in the world. When I see pumpkins, I cannot efface the joy of them being my everything, nor the awe I hold them in.”

On display in the library building, Kusama’s 1945 sketchbook reveals the 16-year-old artist’s keen eye for detail in some 50 drawings capturing the bloom cycle of tree peonies. Also here are examples of her botanical drawings, works on paper, biomorphic collages, assemblage boxes, sculptures and paintings on canvas depicting flora and its limitless variety of patterns.

Kusama’s considerable body of performance works is represented in the Arthur and Janet Ross Gallery by a projection of Walking Piece (ca. 1966/2021), a performance in which Kusama walked the streets of New York City wearing a bright-pink floral kimono and carrying an umbrella decorated with artificial flowers.

Spectacular seasonal displays will complement Kusama’s artworks. Tulips and irises in spring will give way to dahlias and sunflowers in summer, and masses of pumpkins and displays of meticulously trained kiku (Japanese for chrysanthemum) in the fall.

According to KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature guest curator Mika Yoshitake, “For Kusama, cosmic nature is a life force that integrates the terrestrial and celestial orders of the universe from both the micro- and macrocosmic perspectives she investigates in her practice. Her explorations evoke meanings that are both personal and universal. Nature is not only a central source of inspiration, but also integral to the visceral effects of Kusama’s artistic language in which organic growth and the proliferation of life are made ever-present.”

KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature will be accompanied by public programs for all ages, including pop-up performances by musicians, jugglers and puppeteers, and self-guided “Kids Get Cosmic!” activities in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden. Signature exhibition merchandise is available for purchase at NYBG Shop, including a fully illustrated exhibition catalogue this summer.

KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature has a new, limited, timed-entry ticketing system to stagger visitors’ arrivals and promote social distancing. Advance purchase of timed tickets is required and will be confirmed by e-mail with the option to print or download a mobile ticket.

Ticket options include one with access to all KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature outdoor and indoor installations; one for non-NYC residents that includes access to all KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature outdoor installations; and one for NYC residents that includes access to all KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature outdoor installations.

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