Works by the Japanese artist will be scattered across the 250-acre garden grounds, with rows of trees wrapped in red polka-dotted fabric leading the way between installations.
“No trees will be harmed by the mounting of this exhibition,” NYBG president and CEO Carrie Rebora Barratt assured press at a preview of the show, which she described as “a mesmerizing indoor-outdoor spectacle that is designed to change with the seasons.”
And yes, there will be a new Infinity Room, titled Infinity Mirror Room—Illusion Inside the Heart. But this work is designed for the outdoors, and will respond to changes in natural lighting conditions. It will be one of two Infinity Rooms in the show.
The exhibition will include never-before-exhibited works from the artist’s archive and four other pieces created specially for the show.
Kusama is also creating her first obliteration greenhouse, inviting visitors to stick fake coral-colored flowers on the surfaces of the building’s interior.
Although this will be the first time that Kusama has done a major presentation at a botanical garden, the setting is a perfect fit for the artist, whose work has always been linked to plant life. “[Kusama’s] fascination with the natural world is woven throughout her life,” Barratt said.
When the artist was growing up, her grandparents ran a plant nursery and seed farm near her home, and as a 16-year-old, Kusama filled an entire sketchbook with carefully annotated drawings of peonies. That work will be on view for the first time ever in the exhibition.
“Coming of age during World War II, Kusama, like other progressive artists, was drawn to plants life as a vital force that sought to overcome chaos and the nihilism of war,” said exhibition curator Mika Yoshitake, who was previously responsible for Kusama’s blockbuster 2017–19 North American tour.
Throughout the exhibition, the garden’s horticulturalists will augment Kusama’s vision with seasonal floral installations.
On the conservatory lawn, they’ll create a colorful backdrop for a new 16-foot-tall sculpture titled Dancing Pumpkin. The plantings will be inspired by the birch forests of Matsumoto, Japan, where Kusama grew up.
“We were more than a little daunted by the notion of creating living vignettes that could stand in conversation Kusama’s celebrated art,” admitted Todd A. Forrest, the garden’s vice president for horticulture and living collections.
“It has been so much fun to learn about Kusama’s work, and to find plants that will match the vitality of her incredible self-driven painting.”
Most ambitiously, Forrest’s team will attempt to recreate ALONE, BURIED IN A FLOWER GARDEN (2014), a painting from Kusama’s “My Eternal Soul” series, with plants in the conservatory’s gallery.
Mimicking the canvas, which resembles an aerial view of a garden bed, sections of differently colored flowers will be separated by dark gravel.
Kusama exhibitions always draw long lines, so you’re going to want to plan ahead for this one.
But the garden is hoping to keep things running smoothly with two tiers of tickets, including specially timed entry passes for the two Infinity Rooms. (Confusingly, those passes are not included in the Kusama All-Garden Pass.)
Tickets go on sale February 19 for members, and to the general public on February 26. The garden is setting aside 100,000 free tickets for low-income Bronx residents.
See more works from the exhibition and photos of the artist below.
“Kusama: Cosmic Nature” will be on view at the New York Botanical Garden, 2900 Southern Boulevard, the Bronx, New York, May 9–November 1, 2020.
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