Kusama at the New York Botanical Garden – Art & Plants!

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There’s still time to check out the Kusama: Cosmic Nature exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden–and you absolutely should.

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I’ve been a fan of Yayoi Kusama’s work since 2012, when I visited the Whitney Museum for a retrospective of her work.  So I was very glad to learn that she was being featured at the New York Botanical Garden and took that as a reason to purchase a membership and make a reservation.  (Since I wanted to take my daughters, a family membership made the most sense for us.  But membership of any form is great—it supports the institution, provides free entrance, includes a 10% discount on gift shop purchases, and gives you a tax deduction.  Really, there’s no reason not to sign up.) Besides the membership, I paid an extra $30 ($10 each) for a visit to Infinity Mirrored Room—Illusion Inside the Heart. Why?  Ms. Kusama has been creating Infinity Mirror Rooms since the 1960s and I’d never seen one–what better chance to do so than now?

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Infinity Mirrored Room—Illusion Inside the Heart, 2020. The New York Botanical Garden, 2021. Mirror-polished stainless steel, glass mirrors, and colored glass. © YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner

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These days you need timed tickets to visit the Botanical Garden–it’s a social distancing effort. A little advance planning is required, but honestly, not that much.  You can make a reservation and purchase a ticket online ahead of time.  (You can also simply show up, but be forewarned–they do sometimes sell out.) 

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Dancing Pumpkin, 2020. The New York Botanical Garden, 2021. Urethane paint on bronze. © YAYOI KUSAMA. Courtesy of Ota Fine Arts, Victoria Miro, and David Zwirner. Photo by Robert Benson Photography.

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We had 11:00 am tickets and the first thing we did upon arrival was head towards that Infinity Mirror Room.  As it was a bit of a walk from the entrance to get there, we had time to visit Dancing Pumpkin first.  My seven year old was quite taken with it, and honestly, I was, too.  There’s something awfully appealing and childlike about Kusama’s work and we were very glad to be there. Then the Infinity Room.  These tickets aren’t timed, but it was recommended to me (and I now recommend to you) that you do this earlier rather than later in the day, so the line will be shorter.  It wasn’t too long for us, and it was fun to chat with our fellow Kusama enthusiasts while we waited.  You enter the room only with your own party (up to four people). You can’t bring in any bags (but the staff will watch your things for you and your cellphone is allowed in), and, if you’re there on a warm day, it can be uncomfortably hot inside.  You also only have a very short time before they escort you out again for the next viewer.  All that being said–it was worth the $30. 

Yes, it’s all done with mirrors (it’s right there in the title!) but there’s something magical about a small place that’s big inside, like a real life version of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, Hermoine Granger’s beaded handbag, or a wardrobe that somehow contains Narnia.  The experience is weirdly immersive and surprisingly delightful.  It felt like being in a kaleidoscope, or at least, I think it did. (Disclaimer: I have never actually been inside a kaleidoscope.) It’s a purely happy experience–much like seeing late Matisse’s work or the brilliance of a Broadway showstopper, the feeling evoked is joyful.

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By now we were hungry so we stopped by the Hudson Garden Grill.  I’d neglected to make a reservation, but they squeezed us in.  It’s a little pricey, but a comfortable and attractive spot, and the food was good.  Thus fortified, we moved on to explore the grounds. 

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Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees, 2002/2021. The New York Botanical Garden, 2021. Printed polyester fabric, bungees, and aluminum staples installed on existing trees. Collection of the artist. © YAYOI KUSAMA. Photo by Robert Benson Photography.

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We didn’t see everything, but we had a good time with what we did see (and, as we are now members, we can always go back).  We stopped to admire Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees.  (The trees seemed to be wearing sweaters, and it was a good look for them.) My younger girl wanted to see the Thain Family Forest.  The name sounded to me like something out of Tolkien, but we didn’t see any elves or ents or hobbits.  We did see the largest remaining remnant of New York City’s original woodland, 50 acres worth of old growth forest, largely untouched.  (It’s not completely untouched–the paths are maintained, invasive species removed, and native plants introduced.  But it’s pretty close, and a rather amazing place to visit, considering its urban location.) We simply had to check out the waterfall on the Bronx River; it’s a lovely overlook and worth the walk.  

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Although we were getting a little tired in the heat, we pushed on to see the Rockefeller Rose Garden, which was gorgeous–over 700 varieties of roses, blooms of all colors, absolutely exquisite. 

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We decided to take the tram back towards the entrance–it’s a nice way to get around on a hot day.  (And if you want to take it all the way around and see some of the garden highlights, you can do so from the main stop–the tour is approximately 25 minutes long.) Before we went home, we checked out the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden: festive streamers at the entrance, rocks to climb on, topiaries, and many happy kids. 

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You can visit the Botanical Garden at any time of year, but the Kusama exhibit will only be on display until October 31th. (Halloween’s a fitting date for viewing artistic renditions of pumpkins–strong work, NYBG!)

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and two cockatiels.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Hymn of Life—Tulips, 2007. The New York Botanical Garden, 2021. Mixed media. © YAYOI KUSAMA. Collection of the City of Beverly Hills.

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Images Courtesy of the New York Botanical Garden and their Press Room