The New York Botanical Garden is already one of the most serene places to experience nature in the chaos of the city, but now it’s natural beauty is being enhanced by world-renowned artist Yayoi Kusama’s “Cosmic Nature” exhibit. The grounds and greenhouses of the gardens have become home to infinity rooms, giant pumpkins and other fantastical Kusama creations.
Bringing a massive exhibit to the gardens is not an easy undertaking. Although a Kusama exhibit has been a dream for curators at the garden for a long time, they started working on it in earnest three years ago. Joanna Groarke is the NYBG’s Director of Public Engagement and Library Exhibitions Curator and said Kusama’s work, with its overt themes of nature, was an obvious choice.
“Her family owned a flower and seed nursery and she was immersed in plant life from the earliest days of her childhood,” said Groarke. “Seeing how that manifested in works like her sketchbook… and then how that manifests today in more fanciful works like dancing pumpkins or even her infinity rooms was very exciting for us.”
The garden is no stranger to massive exhibitions by big name artists. In 2017, the garden was home to massive glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly, in 2018 it hosted a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit titled “Visions of Hawaii” and in 2015 it presented “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life.” To curate exhibitions, representatives of the garden work with artists, collectors, studios and artists estates. In the case of “Cosmic Nature,” Kusama’s studio loaned most of the work to the garden and representatives of the studio collaborated with curators at NYBG to pick the best works for the landscape.
“Any of the artists whose works we’ve brought to the garden - we want to give our visitors an opportunity to learn something new about their work or about their source of inspiration or about how nature played a role in their career,” said Groarke.
The exhibition was originally scheduled for May of 2020 but had to be rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic. As New York reopens, Groarke said the garden, with its outdoor space and new exhibit, has been a great place for people’s first post-pandemic visits to New York City’s cultural institutions.
“Someone told me the New York Botanical Garden was the happiest place in New York,” said Groarke. “For us it’s thrilling and humbling to be able to host our fellow New Yorkers as they start to venture out again.”
Exhibits like “Cosmic Nature” give people who have been to the NYBG before a new reason to come and those who have not been a reason to start. Many of the works on display have been shown before, but Groarke said the landscape of the gardens and the art come together to create new experiences for viewers. For example, Narcissus Garden, which is currently on display in the Native Plant Garden, was first shown in 1966, but the collection of reflective silver balls can be seen in a whole new way as they float in one of the garden's water features.
“The movement of the water and the movements of wind makes the work almost feel like it’s a living creature as the balls kind of move around and float in different directions and clink together. It’s sort of a meditative experience,” said Groarke. “Narcissus garden because it’s mirrored balls it imbues whatever landscape it's displayed in with new meaning.”
The newest addition to the exhibit is a mirror infinity room called “Illusions Inside the Heart” that was created especially for the botanical garden. The mirrored exterior has been on display, but the interior opens August 3.
To see the full exhibit both indoors and outdoors, tickets are $35 for adults, $32 for students and 15 for children. A garden-only pass is $25 for adults, $22 for students and $12 for children. The exhibit is open through the end of October.
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