See Yayoi Kusama's Whimsical Art at NYBG's Newly Opened Exhibition

A visit to the family-friendly New York Botanical Garden is a treat in any season, but a trip now means not only close encounters with the garden's living collection but also the larger-than-life art of Yayoi Kusama.

Kusama: Cosmic Nature opened at the garden last weekend and runs through Halloween. Read on to learn more about the exhibit and why it's worth a visit—or two—before fall.

Editor's note: While we are trying to promote safer activities that occur outdoors or with social distancing guidelines in place, please keep your family and others safe by always wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

Kusama's artwork is spread throughout the garden, from the reflecting pool to the lawn outside the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and the LuEsther T. Mertz Library galleries. Kusama's trademark polka dots even grace the trunks of some of the garden's soaring trees.

Ten different pieces of Kusama's work are on display in the garden. Four are brand-new works, created especially for the NYBG show, and two of her infamous infinity rooms are included.

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girl standing at Dancing Pumpkin kusama exhibit at NYBG
The gigantic Dancing Pumpkin begs to be explored from the outside and inside. 

We loved the color and scale of these pieces, particularly the Dancing Pumpkin on The Conservatory Lawn. Both its size—soaring to 16 feet tall—and its airy design, which allows visitors to walk right through it, are inviting. Its yellow-and-black color scheme draws you toward it; step back and appreciate its juxtaposition with the Haupt Conservatory in the background, particularly lovely now surrounded by flowering cherries.

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girl  at kusama exhibit at nybg My Soul Blooms Forever
Whimsical shapes and colors abound inside the Palm Dome. 

Inside the Conservatory, see My Soul Blooms Forever under the glass of the newly restored Palm Dome with five whimsical flowers dancing in the sunlight. Travel through the Conservatory to see the very sparkly Starry Pumpkin and a rainbow-hued trail of blooms and blossoms inspired by a Kusama painting. Make sure to step outside the Conservatory to peek at Hymn of Life—Tulips, framed by brilliant red, orange, and purple tulips in the exterior pool.

I Want to Fly to the Universe in the main reflecting pool nybg
I want to Fly to the Universe is on display in the NYBG's Reflecting pool, visible to all guests, even those with just garden and grounds passes.

Outdoor pieces—all visible without an all-garden pass—include the debut of I Want to Fly to the Universe in the main reflecting pool. This sunshine-like shape seemingly floats above the water, beckoning visitors to stop and pose for a picture.

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Girl standing near Kusama's Narcissus Garden in the Native Plant Garden at NYBG collection 1,400 stainless steel spheres
Narcissus Garden floats in the waters of the Native Plant Garden and paints a serene picture. 

Nearby, you'll find Narcissus Garden in the Native Plant Garden. This collection of 1,400 stainless steel spheres floats in the pool here, moving with the whims of Mother Nature. Be still and behold the tinny symphony played by its movement.

girl placing a flower in Kusama piece Flower Obsession at NYBG
Little ones will love the sticker-covered Flower Obsession and adding their own flower to the display. 

Kids can participate in a Kusama piece at Flower Obsession, a freestanding greenhouse where visitors are given a pink-hued flower to add to the display. Stick yours anywhere you like, with few exceptions. There are tables, books, shelves, gardening supplies, and more; soon, none will be visible, for the blooms will have "obliterated" the scene, but that's the idea.

Indoor pieces include Pumpkins Screaming About Love Beyond Infinity in the Visitors Center Gallery. Despite seeing countless PR shots of the display leading up to the installation, I wasn't quite prepared for the awe I experienced in front of the piece. Be forewarned: The gallery gets pitch dark at points, as lights go black, then one-by-one, pumpkins in the installation light up again. You'll stand nose-to-nose with the outside of the infinity room and marvel at how the pumpkins repeat in every direction; don't forget to look up and down. It was hard to pull my daughter—and myself—away from this awesome sight. On an uncrowded weekday, no one hurried us along, but expect that on busy days, you'll only be able to linger for a few minutes.

In the LuEsther T. Mertz Library, you'll find Life, a sculpture that reminded us of a sea monster—perhaps the Little Mermaid's Ursula—tentacles, plus paintings and drawings in the gallery, some dating back to the 1940s and Kusama's earliest work. Scenes from Walking Piece, an early performance-art piece, are also on display in the Ross Gallery. Of the two, my daughter was drawn more to the latter, with its video screens displaying pictures of Kusama parading around the city in a kimono with a decorated umbrella than the more static gallery pieces.

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girl dancing in the mirror of Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room at NYBG
For now, visitors can only peek into Infinity Mirrored Room or peep themselves on its exterior.

Infinity Mirrored Room is on-site, but viewers can only see it from the outside currently. Even so, we had fun peeking through the various peepholes to take in the repeating light on the inside and dancing, posing, and playing with reflections on the outside. Come summer, timed-entry interior access is expected but will require its own separate ticket.

All told, Kusama's pieces add whimsy and wonder to one of our favorite springtime destinations. I'll plan to return and see how the landscaping changes with the seasons to highlight the pieces. Timed-entry tickets are required and must be booked online in advance. NYC residents get FREE admission to the outdoor installations on Wednesdays, allowing access to half the installations. Adult tickets range from $15 for garden passes on other days to $35 for full access to the interior installations; children's tickets are $4-$7 for a garden pass; $15 for full access.

All photos by author

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