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A first look at the major Yayoi Kusama exhibition opening in NYC

Yes, there's an infinity room.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

Iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has officially taken over the New York Botanical Garden with her whimsical pumpkins and flower sculptures. Not to mention, one of her popular infinity rooms. 

Her landmark exhibition, "KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature," finally opens on Saturday after a year-long postponement due to the pandemic. Kusama's work is on glorious display all across the garden in four different experiences on its landscape, in and around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building. Visitors will come across her sculptures and installations almost randomly, like you might happen upon a beautiful flower in nature. Her work makes you stop in your tracks and connect with it.

"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," guest curator Dr. Mika Yoshitake said. "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."

Karen Daubmann, NYBG's vice president for Exhibitions and Audience Engagement, said that having Kusama's "singular vision at the nexus of art, nature, and the cosmos" at the garden is a "once-in-a-lifetime presentation.”

And on March 6, Kusama shared a message about her exhibit: "Dancing through our universe are noble souls whose magnificent forms are saturated with mystery. I invite you to explore the endlessly expanding ode to the beauty of love that is my art." 

So with that said, to get the most of your time at NYBG, don't miss the following installations:

Infinity Mirrored Room — Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity

Pumpkins Screaming about love beyond infinity yayoi kusama
Photograph: Courtesy Yayoi Kusama

Everyone has been waiting for Kusama's infinity mirrored room to come back to New York City since it left David Zwirner's Chelsea gallery. This particular room, which sits in a building on the garden's acreage, is completely dark inside until suddenly thousands of her iconic orange pumpkins with black polka dots glow brighter and brighter. 

"My pumpkins, beloved of all the plants in the world. When I see pumpkins, I cannot efface the joy of them being my everything, not the awe I hold them in," Kusama says of her pumpkins.

Flower Obsession

Flower Obsession Yayoi Kusama
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out

Kusama’s first-ever "obliteration greenhouse" invites visitors in with two stickers in hand—one is vinyl in the shape of a 2D flower and the other is a 3D faux flower (a poppy, a daisyor another bloom)—that you can place anywhere in the greenhouse. The more people place their stickers, the more the greenhouse and everything inside of it changes into a sea of polka dots. This installation was initially inspired by the artist's earliest hallucination of flowers covering every surface and by her childhood, which was spent in the greenhouses of her family's seed nursery.

Dancing Pumpkin 

Dancing Pumpkin Yayoi Kusama
Photograph: Courtesy Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner

Unlike her other pumpkin sculptures, this massive work takes on the characteristics of a spider or octopus with eleven massive legs that you can walk through and around. It's located on the Haupt Conservatory lawn. 

I Want to Fly to the Universe

I want to fly to the universe Yayoi Kusama
Photograph: Courtesy Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner

As the first Kusama sculpture you'll see once you enter NYBG's gates, this 13-foot-high biomorphic form greets visitors with a "primordial face" that is mirrored into the reflecting pool below it. It seems that at any moment, the giant polka-dotted creature could move.

"I convert the energy of life into dots of the universe. And that energy, along with love, flies into the sky," Kusama says.

Narcissus Garden 

Narcissus Garden Yayoi Kusama
Photograph: Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, David Zwirner and Victoria Miro

Narcissus Garden has been in NYC before at Fort Tilden in 2018, but now it takes a new form at NYBG. Its 1,400 stainless steel spheres—each nearly 12 inches in diameter—float in the 230-foot-long water feature of the Native Plant Garden. The reflective orbs get moved by the wind and currents, which means you'll never see it the same way twice. As the orbs move, they make a quiet din that makes for a meditative experience.

One major infinity room—Illusion Inside the Heart—is not open yet because of health and safety guidelines, but when it does open this summer, visitors will see a room that responds to natural light through colored glass.

The show isn't over when you go inside. The NYBG's Conservatory shows off Kusama's large-scale, brightly colored and polka-dotted flowers made of stainless steel called My Soul Blooms Forever under the recently restored dome of the Palms of the World Gallery. The gorgeous pink-and-gold mosaic Starry Pumpkin in the Seasonal Exhibition Galleries is surrounded by a woodland garden of foliage and flowers chosen to harmonize with the sculpture’s pink polka dots and Hymn of Life—Tulips, a trio of larger-than-life fiberglass flowers seem to grow out of the Conservatory Courtyard Hardy Pool.

Make sure to walk a few minutes over to the Library Building to see early works by Kusama, including her 1945 sketchbook that reveals her eye for detail in some 50 drawings. You'll also see some avant-garde ideas she developed while living in New York City between 1958 and 1973, some botanical drawings, works on paper, biomorphic collages, assemblage boxes, sculptures, and paintings on canvas depicting flora and its limitless variety of patterns.  

Yayoi Kusama Cosmic Nature
Photograph: Courtesy New York Botanical Garden

Kusama: Cosmic Nature opens Saturday, April 10, at the New York Botanical Garden. Tickets are $35.

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