The exhibition reveals Kusama’s lifelong fascination with the natural world beginning in her childhood spent in the greenhouses and fields of her family’s Nakatsutaya seed nursery. Multiple installations will be on view, including her signature mirrored environments and organic forms, colossal polka-dotted sculptures of flora, and mesmerizing paintings of plants and flowers and their diversity of colors and patterns. Several of these works are newly completed and will be shown along with archival works that have never been publicly exhibited, and more that will be on view for the first time in the United States.
Complementing the artworks on view, Garden horticulturists will create spectacular in- and outdoor displays through the seasons. Glorious displays of tulips and irises in spring transform into masses of pumpkins and autumnal flowers in fall. Kusama’s plant-inspired polka-dotted sculptures will be installed across the Garden in dialogue with meadow grasses, bellflowers, water lilies, and other plantings. In the Conservatory, stunning floral presentations will bring one of Kusama’s paintings on view in the Library Building to life through a seasonal progression of violas, salvias, zinnias, chrysanthemums, and other colorful annuals. In fall, displays of meticulously trained kiku (Japanese for “chrysanthemum” and one of the country’s most heralded fall-flowering plants) will create a dramatic finale for the exhibition.
Carrie Rebora Barratt, Ph.D., CEO & The William C. Steere Sr. President of The New York Botanical Garden, said, “This once-in-a-lifetime presentation will stand apart from previous exhibitions of Yayoi Kusama’s work because it is rooted in the artist’s profound and enduring exploration of nature and its countless manifestations that evoke meanings that are both personal and universal. Kusama often cites plant life—specifically, a repeating pattern of flowers—as the mythic origin of her concepts of obliteration, infinity, and eternity she explores in her practice. By integrating horticulture and her art, our exhibition will illuminate the powerful role of nature that pervades Kusama’s dynamic oeuvre. We look forward to welcoming visitors to our singular setting in which the landscape and artworks by one of the most important artists of a generation are in lively dialogue through the seasons.”
The exhibition will include works from throughout Kusama’s prolific career and multifaceted practice. On display in the Mertz Library Building, her sketchbooks from adolescence signal the beginning of Kusama’s connection with the natural world that has inspired her aesthetic and practice across mediums. This early work also portends avant-garde ideas she developed while living in New York between 1958 and 1973, as a contemporary of Joseph Cornell, Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, and Claes Oldenburg, and continues to explore rigorously today.
The Library Building presentation will also feature examples of her botanical sketches, paintings, works on paper, biomorphic collages, assemblages, and recent soft sculpture and canvas works depicting flora and their limitless variety of patterns. Life (2015) provides an immersive experience as visitors navigate a circular space enclosing polka-dotted forms with mosaic surfaces. Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity (2017) comprises a mirrored cube reflecting an infinity of polka-dotted pumpkins. It is accompanied by a statement by the artist that reads, in part, “My pumpkins, beloved of all the plants in the world. When I see pumpkins, I cannot efface the joy of them being my everything, nor the awe I hold them in.”
KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature guest curator Mika Yoshitake, Ph.D., said, “It is especially gratifying to realize a Kusama exhibition of this scale at The New York Botanical Garden, one of the world’s premier museums of living plant collections. 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 examines in her practice. Nature is not a mere source of inspiration, but integral to the visceral effects of Kusama’s artistic language in which organic growth and the proliferation of life are made ever-present.”
On the Conservatory Lawn showcasing Dancing Pumpkin, Garden horticulturists will design an immersive landscape of river birches, flowering plants, grasses, ferns, and whimsical topiary inspired by the sculpture. The exuberantly colored and patterned sculpture Hymn of Life: Tulips (2007) featuring three outsized, fiberglass flowers will be on view around a Conservatory Courtyard pool, in conversation with the water lilies and other seasonal plantings.
Two exhibition galleries in the Conservatory will be transformed into a horticultural celebration of Kusama’s practice and her self-proclaimed biophilia. Starry Pumpkin (2015) adorned with pink and gold mosaic will be featured in a woodland garden of foliage and flowers chosen to harmonize with the sculpture’s pink polka dots. Using Kusama’s vibrant painting Alone, Buried in a Flower Garden (2014) as inspiration, NYBG horticulturists designed a living work of art with plantings changing seasonally separated by rows of river rock to mimic the work’s bold shapes and colors. The patchwork of shapes in the painting reads as garden beds seen from above.
Like Kusama, plant scientists examine the connections among living things, many of which are not visible to the naked eye. In the Britton Science Gallery of the Library Building, an exhibition of highly magnified images of plants viewed through scanning electron microscopes will disclose the hidden patterns that appear on the micro level—and what these connections reveal about the interrelationships of organisms on the macro level.