Dancing Pumpkin, 2020, The New York Botanical Garden, Urethane paint on bronze. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner. Photo by Robert Benson Photography
Dancing Pumpkin, 2020, The New York Botanical Garden, Urethane paint on bronze. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner. Photo by Robert Benson Photography

Yayoi Kusama’s new show bursts into life at The New York Botanical Garden

The New York institution displays new works exploring one of the artist’s life-long obsessions - flowers!

Yayoi Kusama was born into a floral setting. “Kusama grew up in rural Japan, surrounded by the flowers her parents grew at their plant nursery business,” explains our book, Flower: Exploring the World in Bloom. “But despite the idyllic setting, Kusama’s childhood was far from happy. The artist suffered hallucinations from an early age. As she recalls: ‘I found myself trembling ... with fear, amid flowers incarnate, which had appeared all of a sudden. I was surrounded by several hundreds of violets ...with uncanny expressions ... chatting among themselves just like human beings.’”

 

I Want to Fly to the Universe, 2020, The New York Botanical Garden, Urethane paint on aluminum. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner. Photo by Robert Benson Photography
I Want to Fly to the Universe, 2020, The New York Botanical Garden, Urethane paint on aluminum. Collection of the artist. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner. Photo by Robert Benson Photography

 
The artist has been struggling with these psychological challenges ever since. Having found success in New York during the 1960s, Kusama returned to Japan in 1977 and has spent much of the subsequent 44 years living as an in-patient in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital.

 

The Kusama Family, ca. 1929, Courtesy of the artist
The Kusama Family, ca. 1929, Courtesy of the artist

 
However, her fascination with the natural world continues to inform her art, and this spring, she marks her ongoing interest with a large-scale exhibition at The New York Botanical Garden. The show, Kusama: Cosmic Nature, which runs until 30 June, includes a recreation of the artist’s legendary Narcissus Garden (an installation of mirrored balls, set afloat on a lake, which she first displayed in Venice during the 1966 Biennale), as well as new versions of Ascension of the Polka Dots (dotty, wrapped trees, that have been shown in East Asia, Europe and the US) and huge, new sculptures, such as Dancing Pumpkin (2020) and I Want to Fly to the Universe (2020).

 

Kusama in Flower Obsession, Photo by Yuzuke Miyazake  © YAYOI KUSAMA 2021
Kusama in Flower Obsession, Photo by Yuzuke Miyazake © YAYOI KUSAMA 2021

 
It’s a beautiful, expansive show, well suited to the Gardens’ settings, and Kusma’s own milieu. The Botanical Gardens even plans to open one of the artist’s famous mirror rooms (colourful, mirrored interiors that have drawn great crowds and queues in the past) though they’re waiting for Covid restrictions to lift a little before ushering the visitors in. Until then, visitors can experience a little of the natural wonder the artist feels.

“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,” says the exhibition’s guest curator, Mika Yoshitake.

“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 proliferation of life are made ever-present.”

 

Flower
Flower

 
For a closer reading of Kusama’s artistic language, get a copy of our Kusama monograph. For more on how the floral world has been visually depicted through the ages, get a copy of Flower.