Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Cosmic Nature’ dots a Bronx garden
One thing the pandemic has deprived us of — for a little while longer, at least — is the heady experience of being lost in a crowd. For some people, it’s thrilling; for others, unnerving. It’s always a change of perspective.
It’s also the feeling I associate with the work of 92-year-old pop and conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama, best known for her infinity mirrors, her paintings and sculptures crowded with polka dots — and for the hordes of fans she typically draws. Luckily, starting this weekend, you can dive into the vertiginous delights of dots and infinite reflection at “Kusama: Cosmic Nature,” an expansive show of outdoor sculptures, along with special gallery exhibits and installations, set among the flowering cherry trees of the New York Botanical Garden. With timed-entry tickets and 250 acres to wander through, the venue also offers a rare chance to contemplate Kusama with a little elbow room.
Three years in the making, the show includes several ambitious pieces, along with a couple of ingenious revivals of Kusama standards and a solid little retrospective of early paintings and performances. (There’s a small free-standing Infinity Room, too — a mirrored little shed in the Home Gardening Center — but the garden won’t be opening its interior till the summer.) Not every new work is equally strong: “Dancing Pumpkin,” a deliriously speckled 16-foot yellow octopus, and “I Want to Fly to the Universe,” an aluminum sun with writhing red tentacles, are perfect; “Flower Obsession,” an installation that asks visitors to add stickers to a greenhouse, too gimmicky.
But the overall idea of setting Kusama’s repetitive dots against the teeming profusion of a botanical garden is inspired. Kusama grew up in Matsumoto, Japan, where her grandparents operated a commercial nursery, and plants have figured heavily in her psychic life. She drew them — look for a couple of highly detailed pencil drawings she made as a teenager — and she hallucinated them, being visited by dancing pansies and pumpkins as a child. (She also saw optical patterns and continued to struggle with her mental health even as she moved to New York, staged protests and “happenings” there, and moved back to Japan.)
VR Sunil Gohil