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Yayoi Kusama Is Creating Her First Obliteration Greenhouse

As part of a large-scale exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden, the acclaimed Japanese artist will also display an indoor-outdoor infinity room.
By Sarah Ward
January 26, 2020
By Sarah Ward
January 26, 2020

Thanks to her vibrant, playful and dot-filled body of work, Yayoi Kusama is known for many things. Her brightly coloured pumpkins, often blown up to larger-than-life size, are instantly recognisable. Her mirrored infinity rooms constantly dazzle the eye, too. But when it comes to interacting with her pieces, the Japanese artist's obliteration rooms might be her most entertaining creation.

The concept really couldn't be more simple. As every visitor enters the space, they're given a page of stickers. Then, as quickly or slowly as each person sees fit, it's their job to place those stickers around the room. If you're heading along at the beginning of the exhibition's run, you might see plenty of white surfaces just waiting to be covered with circles of colour. If you're taking part towards the end of its season, a rainbow of dots might already fill every nook and cranny.

First developed for children as part of an Australian show — Queensland Art Gallery's APT 2002: Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art — back in 2002,  obliteration rooms have been part of Kusama's repertoire ever since. That said, in almost two decades, she hasn't extended the idea to a greenhouse — until now.

As announced in mid-2019, a huge site-specific Kusama exhibition will display at the New York Botanical Garden, kicking off in May this year. KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature sprawl over The Bronx venue's entire 250 acres, both inside and out. And, while the broad details were unveiled when the show was first revealed, the site has started announcing specifics — such as Kusama's first obliteration greenhouse.

Called Flower Obsession, the interactive artwork will task visitors with applying coral flower stickers throughout the interior of the space. Given that KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature is all about celebrating the natural world and its inspiration on the artist's work, it's safe to assume that the greenhouse will actually function as a greenhouse. Just don't go plastering any stickers on the plants, of course.

New York Botanical Garden, Robert Benson

Another just-revealed highlight: Infinity Mirrored Room—Illusion Inside the Heart, which'll take Kusama's famed infinity room concept outdoors, responding to changing light throughout each day and season. Dancing Pumpkin will tower 16-feet high — and be shaped like the vegetable, naturally — while the vivid I Want to Fly to the Universe will span 13 feet in height, with the biomorphic form featuring a yellow face and polka dots.

They're all brand new works; however the exhibition will also reimagine some of the artist's existing pieces. A recreation of the painting Alone, Buried In A Flower Garden might be the most striking, with the NYBG's horticulturists planting a whole garden that mimics its shapes and colours.

Elsewhere, tulips and irises will be planted in formations that'll resemble pumpkins when they bloom. Also, floral presentations will bring another of Kusama's pieces to life in a new medium — using violas, salvias, zinnias and chrysanthemums.

Infinity Mirrored Room—Illusion Inside the Heart (2020)

As all of these aspects of the exhibition make plain, attendees won't just be walking through multiple halls filled with Kusama's work or moseying around an entire gallery. This is a multi-sensory experience, involving wandering around the whole grounds and spying her pieces not only placed on walls and floors everywhere, but mixed among the natural wonders outside.

When the showcase kicks off in 2020, running from May 9 to November 1, visitors can also expect a host of Kusama's giant floral pieces, nature-based paintings, botanical sketches, collages and soft sculptures.

KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature marks the first-ever large-scale exploration of the acclaimed artist's overflowing fondness for the natural world — and, taking its cues from nature, the show is designed to transform over the course of the exhibition. Obviously, interactive installations such as Flower Obsession will evolve thanks to audience participation, but the whole space will also change with the seasons. Transitioning from spring to summer to autumn during the exhibition's duration, the different conditions will add a new tone to Kusama's work.

If you've been contemplating making New York travel plans for this year, consider this some extra motivation.

Yayoi Kusama's exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden will run from May 9, 2020 to November 1, 2020. Head to the venue's website for further details — and to purchase tickets from February 26.

Published on January 26, 2020 by Sarah Ward


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