Kusama’s dots, flowers breathe life into pandemic New York

May 7, 2021 - 3:10 PM
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Visitors take photos near an exhibit at the KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature event at the New York Botanical Garden, in New York City, New York, U.S., May 5, 2021. (Reuters/Roselle Chen)

NEW YORK — Dots are everywhere – on buildings, trees, water and more – as Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama brings her signature motif to the New York Botanical Garden.

Spectacular steel floral installations painted in vibrant hues of yellow and pink, and green and blue and covered with polka dots engulf garden visitors. Giant pumpkins, flowers, an abstract octopus and whimsical shapes carry names such as “I Want to Fly to the Universe.”

“I don’t think anybody can look at a polka dot and not feel joy,” said Karen Daubmann, vice president for exhibitions and audience engagement at the garden in the Bronx.

Kusama has quite a following of people who love her art and want to be immersed in it.”

The rain could not keep patrons away as the “KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature” exhibition opened on Wednesday after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.

“We’ve seen people coming here… not only celebrating the garden and celebrating the art and the artist, but celebrating being together with their friends again and experiencing something inspirational, something bigger, something joyful,” Daubmann said.

In the summer, visitors can enter Kusama‘s “Infinity Mirrored Room-Illusion Inside the Heart” at the garden.

Kusama, 92, left Japan at 27 for New York, where she made a name for herself by painting motifs inspired by hallucinations of flashing lights, dots and flowers she has seen since childhood.

Kusama has said that New York gave her neuroses. Around 1977, a few years after returning to Japan, she voluntarily checked into a mental hospital where she still lives. She is driven to her nearby studio each morning.

KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature” runs through Oct. 31.

—Reporting by Roselle Chen; Editing by Richard Chang