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Yayoi Kusama elevates the landscape at New York Botanical Garden

Japanese icon and artist, Yayoi Kusama, shares a powerful body of work, including archival materials, at Cosmic Nature, which is on view at NYBG in the Bronx, New York City.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Aug 16, 2021

When you consider it, there is really no better venue which more suitably enhances the art of Yayoi Kusama. A garden, the New York Botanical Garden no less, is the penultimate location for a robust body of work which is rooted in nature from both, micro and macro perspectives. The lush green of the garden envelops and holds each artwork as if made from its own soil, connected to its own mycelium. NYBG breathes new life into Kusama’s work, bringing together her iconic sculptural works with lesser seen early sketchbooks and journals. The expansive yet intimate display was inaugurated on April 10, and will continue to be on view until October 31, 2021 (these dates are subject to change, owing to the ongoing pandemic). Cosmic Nature, as titled by the artist, is curated across the 250-acre property belonging to the public garden.

Dancing Pumpkin (2020) is made using urethane paint on bronze | Cosmic Nature | Yayoi Kusama| STIRworld
Dancing Pumpkin (2020) is made using urethane paint on bronze Image: Robert Benson Photography; Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, David Zwirner, Victoria Miro and the artist

In an interview with STIR, guest curator Mika Yoshitake talks about Kusama’s solo at NYBG. She shares the sentiment behind the exhibition title saying, “The title, Cosmic Nature, was given by Kusama herself. For Kusama, “cosmic nature” is a life force that integrates the terrestrial and celestial orders of the universe on both microcosmic and macrocosmic scales. The phrase combines her love of nature with the infinite cosmos. Kusama’s vision of nature is not objectified through representation, but embodied through a visceral transformation that connects the botanical world to the tactile sensations of human nature and the sublime feeling of cosmic expansion. The principle of interconnectivity between the nature, human nature and the cosmic universe lie at the root of Kusama’s engagement with the natural world”. 

My Soul Blooms Forever (2019) is a self-portrait by Kusama | Cosmic Nature | Yayoi Kusama| STIRworld
My Soul Blooms Forever (2019) is a self-portrait by Kusama Image: Robert Benson Photography, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, David Zwirner, Victoria Miro and the artist; Photo by

Kusama’s work, although humanly made, blends in seamlessly with its surroundings at NYBG, as though it were constructed to be home to the Japanese artist’s oeuvre. This is a testament to the work of the curators, and their approach to the massive space. Cosmic Nature is curated keeping in mind the environment, using its beauty to its advantage. Kusama’s distinctive work stands sturdy, while others would surely drown in the midst of the stunning landscape. Yoshitake says, “Spectacular seasonal displays complement the artworks on view, making each visit unique as new plantings, textures, and palettes are introduced. Glorious outdoor displays of tulips and irises in spring give way to dahlias and sunflowers in summer, and masses of pumpkins and autumnal flowers in fall. In and around the conservatory, Kusama’s plant-inspired polka-dotted sculptures are nestled among meadow grasses, bellflowers, water lilies, and other plantings. Stunning floral presentations bring to life one of Kusama’s paintings on view in the Mertz Library Building through a seasonal progression of violas, salvias, zinnias, and other colourful annuals. In Fall, displays of meticulously trained kiku (Japanese for chrysanthemum, one of that country’s most heralded fall-flowering plants) will create a dramatic finale for the conservatory displays”. 

Life (2015) by Kusama on view at NYBG | Cosmic Nature | Yayoi Kusama| STIRworld
Life (2015) by Kusama on view at NYBG Image: Robert Benson Photography, Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, David Zwirner, Victoria Miro and the artist

What is even more of a treat to Kusama’s ardent fans is the peek into the artist’s early life and work. A significant portion of this exhibition is dedicated to archival material, building a road for viewers to dig a little deeper into the body of work presented. This allows for a more profound understanding of Kusama’s practice. Yoshitake discusses further saying, “Many of the outdoor installations were inspired by Kusama’s early experiences growing up in her family’s seed nursery. In the library building gallery, one of the first things featured is Kusama’s sketchbook from 1945, which includes detailed studies of various flowers in bloom and decay drawn in the fields at home in Matsumoto. We have also included a self-portrait from 1950 done in a more surrealist style with a dark sunflower and a pair of lips underneath, a series of abstract works on paper of a seed (that doubles as a face), a heart-shaped cell-like orb from the 1952-3.

The Kusama Family, captured circa 1929 | Cosmic Nature | Yayoi Kusama| STIRworld
The Kusama Family, captured circa 1929 Image: Courtesy of the artist

These relate to collages that exude subterranean worlds that Kusama made in the 1970s that incorporate magazine cutouts of insects, flora and fauna covered by circle-cut fabrics and drawings of floral anatomies. Similarly, we selected assemblage boxes from the early 1980s that include shrouds of sewn and stuffed polka dotted fabrics that have floral and sexual references. These are in dialogue with recent soft sculptures of buds about to blooms in the orchid rotunda and bright yellow pumpkins with different gourd shapes. Finally, her most recent My Eternal Soul paintings are featured in a grid that include ferns. Two of the paintings relate to the outside installations — one painting (Alone Buried in a Flower Garden) is adapted into a live flower path in the conservatory and another (I Want to Go to the Universe) includes a sunflower with a primordial face that is strongly linked to the purple sculpture, I Want to Fly to the Universe”

A portrait of the artist near her work | Cosmic Nature | Yayoi Kusama| STIRworld
A portrait of the artist near her work Image: Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, David Zwirner, Victoria Miro and the artist

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