Most people think of pumpkins as Halloween pumpkins and polka dots as something worn by Minnie Mouse, but not famous Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, whose KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature exhibit opens on April 10.e at the New York Botanical Garden (by timed limited-capacity entry). Postponed to 2020 due to Covid, the new exhibition is installed in various landscapes of the Garden and features the artist’s pumpkins, peas and acrylic flowers.
Entering the garden at the entrance to Mosholu and walking along Garden Way is an installation, Ascent of peas on trees in which the soaring trees are draped in bright red and adorned with white polka dots. Kusama said. “Our earth is just one point among a million stars in the cosmos. Peas are a path to infinity. When we erase nature and our polka dot body, we become part of the oneness of our environment, I become part of the Eternal and we erase ourselves with love.
The 92-year-old artist’s whimsical pumpkins are also covered in polka dots. Why peas? Kusama was born in Nagano, Japan, to a dysfunctional family that owned a nursery and a seed farm. When she was ten years old, Kusama began to experience hallucinations which she described as “flashes of light, auras or dense fields of dots”. She was also fascinated by the smooth white stones of the river near her house, which had another influence on her fixation on the points. She called the peas “endless fillets” and they were a direct result of her hallucinations.
In 1939, at the age of 10, Kusama drew the image of a Japanese woman in a kimono (presumed to be his mother), covered and erased with spots. Later, she created a series of large-scale canvas paintings (sometimes over 9 meters long), Infinity nets, completely covered with nets and dots, alluding to his mind-blowing visions. Kusama began to cover entire surfaces – walls, floors, canvases, household items and even naked assistants – with the polka dots that would become a hallmark of his work.
These are not only points that fascinated the future artist. In elementary school, she started drawing pictures of pumpkins and created works of art that she saw from hallucinations. Since this first drawing, pumpkins have been frequent subjects in Kusama’s painting and sculpture. She remembers the oversized impression of the first pumpkin she had ever seen. As a child in a field with her grandfather, she imagined the fruit as round as the big head of a pumpkin and was cherished for its “fat belly and unadorned features” and “robust psychological power”. As a teenager, Kusama trained in nihonga, a Japanese painting style using formal techniques, materials and subjects from nature. While studying in Kyoto, she spent an entire month drawing pumpkins.
“What attracted me the most was the unpretentious bounty of the pumpkin. That and its strong spiritual balance, ”says Kusama. One of the garden facilities is Pumpkin dance, a monumental sculpture on the lawn in front of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. This playful and powerful 16-foot-tall bronze sculpture is set amidst a landscape of river birch trees, flowering plants, herbs and ferns, a decor inspired by the plants that were native to the home of childhood of Kusama. Said Kusama, “It seems that pumpkins don’t command a lot of respect. But I was enchanted by their charming and alluring shape.
Another pumpkin display is Pumpkins howling with love beyond infinity, located inside a small building which is completely dark when you enter. An attendant waits for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, then shows with his flashlight how you can walk around a mirrored cube reflecting shiny pumpkins with polka dots from all angles extending to infinity . The work, one of the environments reflected by the artist, includes his statement: “My pumpkins, loved by all the plants in the world. When I see pumpkins, I cannot erase the joy that they are everything to me, nor the fear in which I hold them back.
Nearby is I want to fly to the universe, a 13-foot-tall biomorphic shape in the visitor center’s reflective pool. (The visitor center has gifts, plants for sale, food and drink), This whimsical nine-tentacle floral shape with bright purple and red and white polka dots has a yellow primordial face with its mouth open in a happy surprise, happily greeting visitors.
Daffodil garden is 1,400 stainless steel spheres, nearly 12 inches in diameter, installed in the 230-foot-long water feature of the Native Plant Garden. Reflective spheres float on the surface of the water, moved by wind and currents, each reflecting the environment around them.
Kids are never disappointed at the NY Botanical Garden. In Obsession with flowers, children and adults can apply floral stickers and fabric flowers to glass walls and interior items. Kusama uses the patterns and shapes of flowers to represent eternity, obliteration and infinity. Three galleries at the Conservatory are a horticultural celebration of Kusama’s love of life. Upon entering, visitors are greeted with My soul blooms forevercolossal, stainless steel dot flowers painted in dramatic colors and placed in a pool of water under the newly restored dome of the Palms of the World gallery.
Star pumpkin is a work of art adorned with pink and gold mosaics and reminds me of Cinderella’s trainer before he turned into a pumpkin again. In the Conservatory Courtyard Hardy Pool, there is a beautiful facility called
Hymn of life, oversized fiberglass flowers edged with water lilies and other seasonal plantings. And there’s more Kusama: The Mertz Library building features the artist’s sketchbook from 1945 in 50 drawings capturing the flowering cycle of tree peonies. These early works are the product of a lifelong connection to the natural world that inspired his practice through mediums. There are also examples of his botanical sketches, works on paper, biomorphic collages, assembly boxes, and recent soft sculptures and paintings on canvas depicting flora in an unlimited variety of patterns.
Now is the time to go – the buds, blossoms, and blooms of the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden (including a 50-acre old growth forest and waterfalls) are all in partial and full bloom. KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature will remain on display until October 31, 2021.