The New York Botanical Gardens (NYBG) is currently home to an absolutely must-see exhibit, Yayoi Kusama’s Cosmic Nature which runs through the end of October. I am sure that each month will bring its own incredible changes in the landscape, but right now the gardens are just unbelievable. As it happens, May is also Mental Health Awareness Month which is fitting, since Kusama has openly shared her battles with Mental Illness that she has struggled with her entire life.
It is easy to see the universal appeal of her seemingly cheerful imagery, with endless dots being a constant theme. Once you understand that her repetition of dots are meant to allow the viewer a glimpse into her childhood hallucinations, it adds another layer of meaning. Kusama has lived her life with OCD, and her art gave her a way to channel her inner torment. Her work is the truest form of self expression, and it is fascinating that a large percentage of her fans have no idea what drives the imagery.
There is no shortage of writings concerning Kusama’s mental health and her art, but a simple cheat sheet can be found here. Interspersed among the exhibits at the NYBG are the artist’s own words, which give some helpful insight.
To attend the exhibit, tickets must be purchased in advance (you can do so here). There are specific staggered times of entry so that the venue doesn’t become too crowded. As of now, masks are mandatory- but that may change. On the day we attended, the energy and excitement of the visitors was palpable. It was a real cross section of New Yorkers (and tourists) with all ages represented. Children seemed especially delighted by the whimsical sculptures.
There was an opportunity to leave one’s own mark upon the exhibit with s specially designed flower sticker.
I am not sure whether these are removed at the end of each day, but here is how it looked at about 3 pm.
The NYBG Conservatory is always spectacular, but the tulips made it look even better.
Inside, more fanciful sculptures awaited.
The simple pumpkin is a favorite image of Kusama’s. This one had a place of honor in the center of the Conservatory.
There was literally a surprise around every turn.
I cannot tell you how many New Yorkers have never been to the NYBG, and many do not know that it is in the Bronx! It is one of NY’s greatest treasures.
There was a line of people taking photos underneath this iconic pumpkin.
Mirrored balls have been a constant for Kusama since the 1960’s. Meant to reflect the Narcissist within everyone, they were a harbinger of our selfie obsessed culture.
On our way out we took a quick detour to the Children’s Garden.
If you are planning on visiting the NYBG, you must make a stop at Arthur Avenue, an iconic Little Italy in the Bronx. There are many other ethnic groups moving in, but it remains primarily Italian, through and through. Each time we go, we stop at the same old favorites.
First stop is always Calabria Pork Store which boasts their world famous Sausage Chandelier. Even for a vegetarian, the smell is intoxicating.
Second stop is Teitel Brothers , a fixture in the neighborhood since 1915. Their Parmigiana is aged to perfection.
Madonia is the stop for bread, foccacia and cookies. They have been a fixture on the street since 1918.
The last stop before we drive home with all our goodies is usually Full Moon Pizza so my husband can have sustenance for the long trek back. These new kids on the block have only been around since 1976! Its not the best pizza, but it is our tradition.
One can choose from quite a few outdoor dining opportunities, but we were there at an off hour. If you are on Arthur Avenue at dinner time, you can’t go wrong with Roberto’s, Marios, Dominicks, or Zero Otto Nove.
In my book, this was truly a perfect day. Kusama, the NYBG, and a hefty haul of Italian specialties. Make the trip, you won’t regret it.