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Event Spotlight: "KUSAMA | COSMIC NATURE" now on view at the New York Botanical Garden

When you enter the dark enclosure housing Yayoi Kasuma’s “Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity,” currently on view at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), you are met by a glass cube with two-way mirrors reflecting a seemingly endless number of glowing polka-dotted pumpkins. The fruit is a staple of Kasuma’s art, while the polka-dots are her signature; both have been making an appearance in her works since she was a youngster.

"Starry Pumpkin" by Yayoi Kasuma at the New York Botanical Garden | Image by Liz Publika
"Starry Pumpkin" by Yayoi Kasuma at the New York Botanical Garden | Image by Liz Publika

“It seems pumpkins do not inspire much respect,” she once stated. “But I was enchanted by their charming and winsome form. What appealed to me most was the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness.” Being born into a family of merchants who owned a plant nursery and seed farm, Kasuma’s relationship with nature began early; she drew some of her first pumpkins when she was still in elementary school.

Suffering from acute neurosis, Kasuma began hallucinating “flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots" when she was just 10 years old. She also hallucinated more elaborate scenes, like flowers that spoke and elaborate patterns that enveloped her. To channel and deal with what she saw, she incorporated these visions into her art work throughout the years, including recent material, much of which is defined by these experiences.

“Polka dots can't stay alone,” reasoned Kasuma. “When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots we become part of the unity of our environments.” Indeed, “Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees” — featured in KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature, on view at the NYBG until October 31st, 2021 is in unity with the natural environment. The simple yet striking installation consists of tall trees wrapped in red fabric decorated by white dots of various shapes and sizes.

Trained in nihonga — a traditional Japanese painting style that emphasizes the use of natural materials — and inspired by American Abstract Impressionism, Kasuma makes art that seems to perfectly blend the two. While her works are often created out of synthetic materials, her subject matter is mostly inspired by nature and frequently displayed alongside it, as evidenced by the “Dancing Pumpkin,” “I Want to Fly to the Universe,” and other NYBG installations.

"Hymn of Life—Tulips" by Yayoi Kasuma at the New York Botanical Garden | Image by Liz Publika
"Hymn of Life—Tulips" by Yayoi Kasuma at the New York Botanical Garden | Image by Liz Publika

Aside from the works peppered throughout the garden, there are also three indoor exhibits. One is at the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building, where visitors can see Kasuma’s paintings, biomorphic collages, sculpture, and works on paper. The other, a multi screen digital projection of a performance work called “Walking Piece” (1966/2021) filmed in NYC, is at the adjacent Ross Gallery. The last features more sculptures found at the Haupt Conservatory Galleries.

Based on the works featured around the New York Botanical Garden, it’s clear that the art of Yayoi Kasuma is a tribute to nature at the micro and macro level. From her fascination with the building blocks of life to the elements that make up the cosmos at large, Kasuma has been able to depict her fascination with our universe using two simple symbols: pumpkins and the polka dot.

Note* Images are the creative and intellectual property of Liz Publika.


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