The much anticipated exhibition, KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature by renowned Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, which was postponed due to COVID-19, is now back on track, and opening in April. The exhibition will be installed across the Garden’s landscape, in and around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building. What better place to socially distance than at the New York Botanical Garden.
The exhibition, related programs, and accompanying publication will 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. The exhibition will include works from throughout Kusama’s prolific career and multifaceted practice. By integrating seasonal horticultural displays, KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature will further illuminate the power of nature that pervades the artist’s practice and dynamic body of work.
Multiple outdoor installations will be on view, including monumental sculptures of flora that will transform the Garden’s 250 acre landscape and the visitor experience. Her signature polka-dotted organic forms and mesmerizing paintings of plants and flowers will also be presented. These vivid observations of biodiversity will be shown along with archival material that has never been publicly exhibited, and more that will be on view for the first time in the United States.
Among the works created for and debuting in the exhibition are:
Flower Obsession (2017/2021), Kusama’s first-ever obliteration greenhouse; Dancing Pumpkin (2020), a monumental sculpture presented on the Haupt Conservatory Lawn; I Want to Fly to the Universe (2020), a 13-foot-high biomorphic from presented in the Visitor Center; and Infinity Mirrored Room ~ Illusion Inside the Heart (2020), an outdoor installation reflecting its environs.
Spectacular seasonal displays will complement the artworks on view, making each visit unique as new plantings, textures, and palettes are introduced. Outdoor displays of tulips and irises in spring will give way to dahlias and sweetness in summer, and masses of pumpkins and autumnal flowers in fall. In and around the Conservatory, Kusama’s plant-inspired polka-dotted sculptures will be nestled among meadow grasses, bellflowers, water lillies, and other plantings. One of Kusama’s paintings will be on view in the Library Building .
KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature guest curator Mika Yoshitake, Ph.D., said, “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.
In the Garden ~ On the Conservatory Lawn, visitors will encounter the monumental Dancing Pumpkin, a 16-foot-high bronze sculpture in black and yellow. Visitors can marvel at the bright, purple-tentacled floral form with a vivid yellow primordial face of I Want to Fly to the Universe in the Visitor Center Reflecting Pool, and Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2002/2021), where soaring trees adorned in vibrant red with white polka dots will pop in the landscape along the Garden Way.
Narcissus Garden (1966/2021), 1,400 stainless steel spheres each nearly 12 inches in diameter, will be installed in the 230-foot-long water feature of the Native Plant Garden. The reflective spheres will float on the water’s surface, moved by wind and currents, each mirroring the environment around them to captivating effect.
The exterior of Infinity Mirrored Room ~ Illusion Inside the Heart, a cube-shaped structure with a reflective surface, will be on view, revealing and repeating the changing landscape throughout the seasons. Interior access to the installation, which responds to natural light through colored glass throughout the day, is planned to begin in summer with timed-entry ticket according to New York State and New York City guidelines for COVID-19.
In the Galleries ~ In Flower Obsession, visitors may opt to apply coral-colored floral stickers to the glass-paned walls and interior objects. Three galleries in the conservatory will be transformed into a horticultural celebration of Kusama’s self-proclaimed biophilia. My Soul Blooms Forever (2019), colossal polka-dotted flowers made of stainless steel and painted in dramatic colors, will greet visitors under the newly restored dome of the Palms of the World Gallery.
In the Seasonal Exhibition Galleries, Starry Pumpkin (2015) adorned with pink and gold mosaic will be featured in a woodland garden of foliage and flowers chosen to harmonize with the sculpture’s pink polka dots. using Kusama’s vibrant painting Alone Buried in a Flower Garden (2014) as inspiration, NYBG horticulturists have designed a living work of art to mimic the painting’s bold shapes and colors, with plantings that will change seasonally.
In the Conservatory Courtyard Hardy Pool, the sculpture Hymn of Life-Tulips (2007) will feature outsized, fiberglass flowers, bordered by water lilies and other seasonal plantings. Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity (2017) comprises a glass cube with two-way mirrors reflecting an infinity of glowing polka-dotted pumpkins within it.
On display in the Mertz 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. This early work is the product of a lifelong connection with the natural world that has inspired her practice across mediums, and also portends avant-garde ideas she developed while living in New York City between 1958 and 1973, as a contemporary of Joseph Cornell, Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, and Claes Oldenburg, and continues to explore rigorously today.
Kusama’s considerable body of performance works is represented in the exhibition by projected photographs of Walking Piece (ca. 1966), a performance in which Kusama walked the streets of New York wearing a bright-pink floral kimono and carrying an umbrella decorated with artificial flowers. Art historians have analyzed Walking Piece as a carefully calculated representation of the artist’s ethnicity and gender, one that was intended to demand attention.
Kusama: Cosmic Nature will be on view from Saturday, April 10 through Sunday, October 31, 2021 at the New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard in the Bronx. Patron pre-sale begins March 9 at 10am; Member and corporate member pre-sale begin on March 11 at 10am; Public tickets on sale March 16 at 10am. Check the NYBG website for additional programs and a fully illustrated exhibition catalogue, co-published with Rizzoli Electra.
Did you know that there is a Kusama Pumpkin on 42nd Street? Sky Residential Towers located at 605 West 42nd Street installed this gorgeous piece as a permanent installation in the plaza near its entrance.
Looking back at Yayoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden, a site-specific installation by MoMA PS1 in 2018.