Artist gives nature a `cosmic' twist in big NY garden show

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The sculpture "I Want to Fly to the Universe" by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is reflected in a pool at the New York Botanical Garden, Thursday, April 8, 2021 in the Bronx borough of New York. The expansive exhibit has opened, and ticket sales have been brisk in a pandemic-weary city hungry for more outdoor cultural events. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

An expansive new show featuring works by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, famous for mesmerizing polka dots, speckled pumpkins and fascination with the natural world, has opened at The New York Botanical Garden. Ticket sales have been brisk in a pandemic-weary city hungry for more outdoor cultural events.

“Kusama: Cosmic Nature,” postponed by a year due to the coronavirus, will remain on view through Halloween.

Most of the artworks are outdoors and are big enough to enjoy while remaining socially distanced. Visitors will want to wear their walking shoes; the show features multiple galleries, installations and gardens. Elaborate flower displays complement some of the works, which are scattered over the 250-acre botanical garden in the Bronx.

The setting could not be more suitable for Kusama’s multifaceted works, all of which relate in various ways to the world of nature. Having grown up in the greenhouses and fields of her family’s enormous seed nursery in Matsumoto, Japan, Kusama has always focused her work on the natural world, says guest curator Mika Yoshitake.

“For Kusama, cosmic nature is a life force that integrates the terrestrial and celestial orders of the universe from both the micro- and macrocosmic perspectives,” Yoshitake says.

When Kusama was young, she began having vivid hallucinations, some of which involved polka dots or flowers spreading around her.

“Some people get stuck on the polka dots. Her work has a sort of internal sadness combined with an external joy, which really speaks to the current moment,” says Karen Daubmann, vice president for exhibitions and audience engagement at the garden.

Works debuting at the exhibit include the 16-foot-high painted bronze “Dancing Pumpkin” (2020), which appears to frolic happily on the Haupt Conservatory Lawn; “I Want to Fly the Universe” (2020), a brightly colored 13-foot-high biomorphic form installed near the Visitor’s Center; and “Infinity Mirrored Room - Illusion Inside the Heart” (2020), an outdoor installation reflecting its surroundings.