After a year spent largely inside, New Yorkers have a joyful gift awaiting them at the New York Botanical Garden. The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored orbs, bold polka dots, and signature pumpkins are being unveiled after a year’s delay amid the seasonal rebirth that is early spring, surrounded by blossoming daffodils and cherry trees.
“People are just itching to be outdoors and to see something cultural again,” Nicholas Lechi, the garden’s senior director of communications, told Artnet News.
The exhibition, “Kusama: Cosmic Infinity,” functions as a celebratory reminder that despite the struggles of the past year—and rightly maligned editorials to the contrary—this city is still here, and still has so much to offer. After the long, dark winter, it’s not only the art show we need, but the art show we deserve.
Yayoi Kusama, Narcissus Garden (1966/2021) at the New York Botanical Garden. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Unlike her wildly popular museum exhibitions, where visitors queue for hours for the chance to spend 30 seconds inside one of Kusama’s mirrored “infinity rooms,” most of the art here can be experienced outdoors without long lines, making it ideal for the age of social distancing.
“It’s a refreshing experience since we don’t normally see art that way. You go from one gallery to the next,” curator Mika Yoshitake said at the exhibition’s press preview. “Kusama’s work really enhances the botanical landscape.”
The setting is a fitting one for the artist, who grew up in a seed nursery, and for whom flowers are a recurring motif.
Yayoi Kusama around age 10. Photo courtesy of the artist.
“There’s a very visceral connection to nature that you see in her forms,” Yoshitake said.
The garden was forced to pare back on its indoor exhibition plans because of the pandemic, so only the first floor library space is in use, showcasing a limited selection of paintings and sculptures.
But there’s plenty to see outdoors. Greeting visitors at the entrance fountain is the smiling sun sculpture I Want to Fly to the Universe (2020), while the fabric-wrapped trees of Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2002/2021) line the path in front of the library.
Yayoi Kusama in Flower Obsession. Photo by Yuzuke Miyazake ©Yayoi Kusama 2021.
Outside the conservatory stands the monumental Dancing Pumpkin (2020), a bronze sculpture that combines the artist’s love of tentacles and pumpkins. And one of artist’s most famous works, the shiny steel orbs of Narcissus Garden (1966/2021), is installed in the Native Plant Garden, floating in the shallow waters like a sea of tiny globes.
Those four Kusama artworks are on view to all visitors, but the indoor works, including those in the conservatory and library, will require a special galleries ticket, priced at $35 for adults. (General grounds admission is $25.)
Later in the season, health regulations permitting, the show will add one final piece, Infinity Mirrored Room—Illusion Inside the Heart (2020), which features colored glass and natural light. Guests will be required to purchase a separate ticket for access.
Yayoi Kusama, Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity (2017). Collection of the artist.Photo courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner.
Weekend dates are already sold out through June 30, but the show is on view through Halloween, providing ample opportunity to visit despite capacity restrictions.
And for those who looking for an extra helping of Kusama—or who can’t snag a ticket to the gardens yet—New York gallery David Benrimon Fine Art is opening a show of the artist’s prints next week.
But the garden, with the interplay of the sun and breeze and flowers, undoubtedly offers a unique way to experience Kusama’s work.
“This exhibition will be great to see as the seasons change,” Leshi said. “So now you’re seeing spring, then you’ll see summer, then you’ll see the fall and there’ll be different things like the Kiku, the Japanese chrysanthemums.”
See more photos from the show below.
Yayoi Kusama, Dancing Pumpkin (2020) at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner.
Yayoi Kusama, Dancing Pumpkin (2020) at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Yayoi Kusama, Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2002/2021) at the New York Botanical Garden. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Yayoi Kusama, My Soul Blooms Forever (2019) at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner.
Yayoi Kusama, Starry Pumpkin at the New York Botanical Garden. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Yayoi Kusama, Narcissus Garden (1966/2021) at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner.
Yayoi Kusama, Life (2015) at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner.
Yayoi Kusama, Flower Obsession (2017/2021). Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Yayoi Kusama, Alone, Buried in Flower Garden (2014). Collection of the artist. Photo courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner.
Yayoi Kusama, I WANT TO GO TO THE UNIVERSE (2013). Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner.
Yayoi Kusama, Summer Flowers (1988), Wild Flowers (1984), Lilies (1984), and Dandelions (1984) at the New York Botanical Garden. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Yayoi Kusama, Summer Flower (1988). Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner.
Installation view of “Kusama: Cosmic Nature” at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Sculpture in “Kusama: Cosmic Nature” at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Sculpture in “Kusama: Cosmic Nature” at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
Paintings in “Kusama: Cosmic Nature” at the New York Botanical Garden. Collection of the artist. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
“Kusama: Cosmic Nature” is on view at the New York Botanical Garden, Southern Boulevard, Bronx, April 10–October 31, 2021.
“Yayoi Kusama: Infinity” is on view at David Benrimon Fine Art, the Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, April 15–May 27, 2021. 
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