Yayoi Kusma at New York Botanical Garden

Last week, my little guy and I took a day trip to the city to check out Yayoi Kusama’s exhibits at the New York Botanical Gardens. This weekend is the last weekend it’s on display, so I wanted to give a sneak peek of what to expect if you head over that way.

Inside the observatory

Years ago, during our initial family visits to New York when we planned to move to the Northeast, we all went to Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room. This exhibit was one of many in which she created a room outfitted like a studio apartment, with a kitchen, sitting area, and bed, that was completely white. Visitors of the exhibit are gifted colorful dot stickers and are invited to place them anywhere in the room. Though the room is white on opening day, by the end of the exhibit there is nay a place to make your mark!

Obliteration Room, NYC 2015
Obliteration Room, NYC 2015
My oldest son and I, Obliteration Room NYC 2015

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when at preschool drop off, one of the moms said she and her two kids went the the New York Botanical Gardens with her nanny & two young children. I knew I’d have serious FOMO if I didn’t make plans ASAP! So I invited my teen, who declined, then made plans for a mid-week day trip with my youngest.

Description of Cosmic Nature, Yayoi Kusma’s exhibit at NYBG

The exhibit is so whimsical. If you’ve been reading my rarely-updated blog or following me on social media for a while, you know that whimsy, whacky, bold and colorful are just my design style. I mentioned in a recent post that I’ve become more passionate about native gardening, but as I expand my design efforts from indoor to outdoor, I haven’t found a lot of inspiration that adds whimsy, yet chic to the garden. It’s a fine line to walk between design that is fun versus cheesy. These installations were so inspiring!

I’m thinking next year’s autumn porch display may have some inspiration from Yayoi’s signature pumpkins. How fun would that be? The pumpkins and flowers were both in the observatory at the gardens. This was my first visit and was taken aback by the beauty.

Pumpkins galore were on display for autumn

Inside the observatory, there were also flowers arranged in a patchwork motif, inspired by Kusama’s early paintings.

I told Elvis, “gentle touching!!” and noticed he was already using two fingers, just as he learned to gently touch the stingrays at the aquarium. Be still, my heart!

Also inside the conservatory was a gorgeous collection of Chrysanthemums that had been trained to bloom in a spectacular manner. My style of gardening errs toward the naturally occurring meadow style, but one can still appreciate the art and dedication put into individual plants for them to oblige to human vision.

Following previous popularity of Kusama’s aforementioned Obliteration Rooms, the Gardens hosted her first Obliteration Greenhouse.

I love how one can share a photo from an Obliteration Room or Obliteration Greenhouse and the viewer will know how late into the exhibition the visit occurred. Clearly we were in the tail end this time. As you can see, in place of colorful dot stickers, visitors received silk flowers sans stems with sticky backings. There were also flower-shaped stickers as well, I presume during an in-between time where the silk flowers were unavailable.

The Greenhouse had already been Obliterated so well, I had to touch things to see what was beneath. There were potting benches, baskets tohold gardening tools. a table and chairs, a bicycle, and many artificial plants. All blooming with rosy-hued daisy delight.

Per New York City Covid guidelines, all indoor displays (not the Greenhouse) required proof of vaccination for all those of age to be eligible. It was great to feel so safe while my youngest son is not yet of age for the vaccine.

This is the only photograph of an indoor work. Other areas, like the Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity (2017) (a must see!) requested no photos. In another indoor gallery, there was a slideshow of photographs of Kusama in the sixties. She did a performance art/photography piece where she walked through busy and isolated/industrial streets of New York wearing traditional Japanese dress. The painful expressions on her face and with her body highlighted how alien she felt moving from her previous culture to America. Some of the expressionless or disinterested people caught on camera reacting to the piece really drove home the aloof character of New Yorkers and how that can strengthen feelings of isolation.

I could really relate to this work, with the culture shock and subsequent social anxiety I suffered after moving from Texas to the Northeast, though the transition was of smaller scale than Kusama, who moved from a small, traditional village in Japan to New York City.

Of course it was a priority for me to visit the Native Plant Garden, and it was there where I was pleasantly surprised to see yet another exhibit, Narcissus Garden (1966/2021).

In the 1966 rendition of this work, Kusama sold these orbs in addition to displaying them in a similar small body of water in Italy. A hand-written sign read “Narcissism for Sale, $5″…or something along those lines. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to snap a pic of the sign that described it and showed a photograph, as I was wrangling my three year old to safety next to a body of water.

The “Narcissism for Sale” schtick was a jab at those who wanted to purchase a product whose only purpose was to reflect the observer, but what was stunning about this exhibit was the way in which the sun reflected off of the orbs.

I loved so many different angles of the Narcissus Garden (1966/2021) and the way that the human-forged metallic spheres intermingled with the natural grasses in the water. I often gravitate toward landscapes that showcase the beauty of nature with a nod to human life, such as a pastoral landscape with a barn in the distance, or a beach with a boat. The metal of the orbs is so industrial and the shape so man-made that it creates a wonderful contrast.

Appreciating a “hint of human” in landscapes reminds me, I once read that Hugh Hefner insisted that all centerfolds have a “hint of a man” within the photograph. Whether it was a phone, an article of clothing, or a note. Tried to google for a source but all that shows up for ol’ Hef these days are about his despicable sexual behavior, so I’m not heading down that rabbit hole, and you’ll have to take my word for it. But I thought that nugget was interesting and showed some artistic integrity that predated what eventually became a far more revolting pornographic industry.

And what is art if not pornography for the senses? I digress.

Narcissus Garden (1966/2021)

Prior to indulging in the Native Plant Garden, I indulged my three year old in the Children’s Garden, in which he had such a great time that it was hard for me to move him along to all that there was to see within. He even saw two garter snakes!

Above, and among these pictures you will see more Autumn lawn decoration inspo. How could one NOT love these pumpkin+branches men? Aside from the Blair Witch vibes, they’re so fun!

Kusama was brought into the Children’s Garden with a story walk of a children’s book about her life story. It was a great book (almost purchased, but Elvis decided instead to buy a magnifying glass similar to that he had been exploring with in another children’s exhibit) and this page was a favorite of mine–both Kusama and I like to escape to the MOMA when we’re down šŸ™‚

Outside of the Children’s Garden, I was inspired by Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (2002/2021). Last year, during early covid quarantine, I saw a lot of Yarn Bombing in Fairfield and, moreso, in Westport. This inspired me to “one day” yard bomb a large oak in my yard with a christmas sweater for the holidays.

Thing is, I don’t knit. And this tree is giant. Kusama’s Ascension offers me an alternative holiday exterior goal technique.

So fun! And without lofty needlework goals, so a real winner.

Well, it’s about time for me to do a preschool pick up. I’ll leave you with some beautiful perennial arrangements by one of my favorite landscape designers, Piet Oudolf.

Hopefully these images spark some inspiration in you!

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