Gallery Keen

Unexpected Art In All The Perfect Spaces

Outside of the Mertz Library Building Gallery at NYBG. Photo by Candace Nicholson

Just because I haven't been behind the keyboard as often as I might normally would this summer doesn't mean my love for the arts has grown stagnant or ignored. By no means. I've enjoyed a number of local gallery events here in my current home of Newark, including Black at the Akwaaba Gallery and Welcome Back to the World at Index Art Center.

As you may recall, I even ventured into the city to prior to the official start of summer to check out the Grief and Grievances exhibition at the New Museum. But with the world not quite opening up as much as we hoped, I have tried to keep my artistic endeavors closer to home and home-based. Except this time!

If you haven't heard, Yayoi Kusama currently has a major exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden that is half indoors and half out-and-about in the Gardens where visitors can socially distance and personally fawn over this master of the contemporary art installation and amplifier of the weird and wonderful. Running now through October 31st, you can see 10 unique presentations of Kusama's greatest and newest hits, as well as some of her private collections rarely seen outside of their first exhibition.

On August 21st, I met up with an old colleague of mine to visit Kusama: Cosmic Nature, and take in my first visit to the New York Botanical Garden since moving to the East Coast. Although my buddy and I didn't purchase the separate ticket to the Infinity Mirrored Room -- Illusion Inside the Heart, I believe our experience on that absurdly humid day in NYC was well worth our time, sweat and courage to enjoy amazing art in a public space during a pandemic.

The things we do for the things we love.

But if you're not in a position to do the same -- and trust me, I understand -- here's a glimpse of what I had the opportunity to enjoy on that lovely day. Feel free to live through my eyes. And if that's not enough, you have 6 more weeks to check it out in person for yourself.

Lillian Goldman Fountain dedication
In case you're wondering about the fountain in the top photo, it's called the Lillian Goldman Fountain of Life after one of the biggest supporters of the New York Botanical Garden's renovation over the last 30 years.
Text for Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity by Kusama
Upon entering the park, the first Kusama installation you get to devour is the "Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity." Unfortunately, you can't take photos in the room (it's one of the indoor works), so I snapped this photo of Kusama sharing her thoughts on why pumpkins feature so much in her work before I entered the room.
I Want to Fly to the Universe by Yayoi Kusama
The "I Want to Fly to the Universe" sculpture is the headliner for the entire exhibition. It's not a pumpkin, but it is covered in Kusama's trademark polka dots.
Text for I Want to Fly to the Universe by Kusama
And here is what Kusama wants us to know about this recent addition to her collection.
Narcissus Garden 1966/2021 by Kusama
After capturing photos of the world's cutest starfish (sorry Patrick Star), we diverged onto the path that led us to this recreation of Kusama's 1966 gate-crashing exhibition titled "Narcissus Garden." More on the gate-crashing aspect later.
Narcissus Garden text at NYBG
And this is what Kusama would like you to remember about this dynamic installation.
Inside Flower Obsession by Kusama
Back on the path that led to the other artworks, we next moved over to another enclosed installation, but thankfully, this one did allow photography. This piece is called "Flower Obsession." I wonder why? ;-)
Where I placed my flower in Flower Obsession
Inside this work, you are given a plastic flower to add to the piece as a representation of how we all contribute to the world collectively, but also in our own individual way. This is where I placed mine.
Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees by Kusama
Keeping the love of polka dots alive, the next outdoor installation you see is titled "Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees." There wasn't a description to go along with this one, but it was no less marvelous to see in person.
A tree in the Ascension of Polka Dots work
I would love to know how long this work took to install.
Early sketches by Kusama at NYBG
Moving on from major outdoor installations, we found ourselves inside the Mertz Library Building Gallery to check out some indoor works, including some of Kusama's earliest sketchbooks. Note: You're not supposed to take photos in here, but I grabbed this one before I saw the sign that read "No photography," so I thought I'd share it here so now we're both in trouble. :-)
Cosmic Nature info inside Mertz Library Building Gallery
There are a few placards inside the Mertz Library explaining the concept behind the "Cosmic Nature" exhibition, along with a few more details about Kusama's career.
Soft sculptures by Kusama
Step outside of the sketchbook and early career art gallery to see some of the Kusama's pieces that are a part of her "Soft Sculpture" collection.
About the Soft Sculptures text
Kusama began working in soft sculpture in the 1980s, and continues to take up the practice well into the 21st century.
Dots in motion by Kusama
As we leave to head back outdoors to see more, I had to snap this photo of an artwork that I, sadly, can't identify. I just call it "Dots in Motion."
Walking Piece exhibit inside of the Ross Gallery
Before we travel to another installation outdoors, we venture over to this indoor installation located in the Ross Gallery. It's titled "Walking Piece" and features videos and a photographic timeline of Kusama's career from the 1950s until today, but largely focusing on her time in New York before returning to Japan.
Text inside Walking Piece
Here's one of the telltale dots that share fascinating details about Kusama's career.
More text about Kusama in Walking Piece
Another detail, this time it's about the "Narcissus Garden" exhibit that she created for the Venice Biennale in 1968, when she "gate-crashed" the event. As you can see, she was no stranger to critiquing the art world as much as she was a part of it.
More of Walking Piece including the video installation
A little difficult to capture, the rest of the "Walking Piece" installation featured a video piece Kusama created in last '60s while walking around the streets of New York City in full Japanese kimono and sandals, reacting to the people reacting to her on the street. This wordless video shares an interesting commentary about what is worthy of turning our heads as we register what is "normal" and what isn't.
The Dancing Pumpkin by Kusama from afar
The last of the outdoor installation, "Dancing Pumpkin" was a sight to behold from near or afar.
The Dancing Pumpkin by Kusama at NYBG
But of course, one has to step a little closer.
Dancing Pumpkin text at NYBG
For anyone looking for some information on one of the newest additions to her collection, you can find it here.
Kids with their mom inside the Dancing Pumpkin by Kusama
One of my favorite things about the "Dancing Pumpkin" is how you're invited to step inside and take a closer look.
Inside the Dancing Pumpkin by Kusama
Which, of course, I didn't turn down either. The "Dancing Pumpkin" is tall enough for the taller-than-average like me to walk inside.
My Soul Blooms Forever by Yayoi Kusama
Last, but not least. We moved from the final outdoor installation to the final indoor installation, this time located inside of the Haupt Conservatory. Once there, we were able to enjoy "My Soul Blooms Forever."
My Soul Blooms Forever by Kusama at NYBG
They were, of course, far too brilliant to not get a close-up
Pink flower in My Soul Blooms Forever by Kusama
... or two
Purple flower in the My Soul Blooms Forever work by Kusama
Or three.
The sign for My Soul Blooms Forever
And of course, they are featured with a few words from Kusama herself.
Two dancers from PTDC perform a pas de deux.
Before we left the Botanical Garden, our exit from the Conservatory coincided with a free performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company. As a lover of dance and a former dancer myself, I couldn't let this good fortune pass by without taking a photo or two.
PTDC performs at NYBG
The Paul Taylor Dance Company performed 3 numbers, each giving off a 1960s/1970s vibe, which seemed to pair with the "Kusama: Cosmic Nature" exhibit wonderfully.
Souvenirs from Kusama
Once I arrived home, I decided to take a snapshot of my souvenirs from my trip into the city, which features a button with one of Kusama's drawing on it, a magnet with the "I Want to Fly to the Universe" starfish, and a book about improving your survival in the great outdoors (a lovely reminder that the NYBG is home to the Thain Forest, a favorite among NYC-dwelling hikers). My cat, Scheherazade, seemed to approve.

All Images by Candace Nicholson
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