New York City Reawakens with the Opening of KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature at NYBG
Story & photos by Everett Potter
Anyone who needs a dose of exuberance after the year we’ve had should make a beeline to KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).
Featuring work by celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, it runs from April 10–October 31, 2021. The exhibition is installed across the Garden’s landscape, in and around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, and in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building, the first-ever comprehensive exploration of the artist’s lifelong fascination with the natural world.
KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature is very much the antidote that New York desperately needs following a year of privation.
Yayoi Kusama’s joyous scultpures can be taken at face value or they can be contemplated by anyone who wants to go beyond their decorative surfaces and shapes. The works on view include
- 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 form presented in the Visitor Center; and,
- Infinity Mirrored Room—Illusion Inside the Heart (2020), an outdoor installation reflecting its environs.
What makes them even more magical is their site-specific installation throughout the Garden grounds.
Reflection has a role in these pieces, most commonly in a water setting but also in the use of mirrors and sometimes seemingly by chance in the glossy surfaces of some of the pieces themselves. The dots both aid and subvert the eye at the same time, creating a sense of movment in otherwise static pieces. The work can be, by turns, hypnotic, playful and provocative.
They can feel interactive, as with Flower Obsession, but frankly, they all engage the viewer emotionally. That should not be surprising, given that engagement is a large part of who Kusama is, an artist who took part in organizing “Happenings” in New York City and in Provincetown back in the 1960’s. You can walk under the “tentacles” of “Dancing Pumpkin,” for example, and watch how the sun and sky alter the black underside, which is as much a part of the piece as the black and yellow polka dot facade.
It is, in short, impossible to be indifferent to these works. Joy seemed like the operative emotion yesterday at the preview I attended, the first post-pandemic outing for many in attendance. Any why not, given a blue sky day, Kusama’s cartoon colors and the garden’s profusion of blossoms.
Kusama’s whimsical yet profound pieces are aided by the fact that New York City is enjoying a classic spring of blue skies, sunny days and, at NYBG, incredible floral displays of bulbs, trees and seasonal shrubs. Of course, as the garden changes through summer and into the fall, the works will likely take on different hues and aspects of light and adjacent colors as well. Polka dots and pumpkins have never had it so good.
NYBG is the exclusive venue for KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature. On view April 10 through October 31, 2021, advance, timed, limited-capacity tickets for the landmark presentation are required and on sale at nybg.org/kusama.For more information and for timed-tickets, go to NYBG.