Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden Makes A New Home at the Momentary
The Momentary is the newest site of a Yayoi Kusama installation called Narcissus Garden. This expansive and immersive installation comprises nearly 900 mirrored spheres (yes, that’s a lot!) displayed en masse to create a dynamic reflective field.
For Kusama, this work symbolizes a fantastical and interconnected universe, where no single dot can stand alone. Thus, each orb relies on the presence of the others, allowing us to visualize an ideal human society in which each ‘dot’ helps and supports the others.
The mirror, meanwhile, offers a sense of infinite existence, an expanding world reaching out to the edges of the universe, one in which the viewer is able to locate and perhaps lose themselves and the world around them in a myriad of convex reflections. Kusama has described this experience of encountering a dizzying and exhilarating suspension of the self as “self-obliteration.”
This artwork has appeared in many forms over the decades and has a rich history dating back to 1966. In Venice, where she unofficially participated in the Venice Biennale, Kusama installed the spheres on a lawn in front of the Italian Pavilion with signs that read: “Narcissus Garden, Kusama” and “Your Narcissism for Sale.”
According to Daily Art Magazine:
“The name of the work is derived from Echo and Narcissus, a myth by Ovid. According to the myth, Narcissus escaped to a spring or a lake, and when he saw his reflection upon the waters of the pond, he fell in love with it and could not turn his gaze away. Narcissus Garden visualises the pond, and each visitor plays the role of Narcissus.”
At the Venice Biennale, Kusama dressed in a kimono and offered individual spheres for sale (at $2, or 1,200 lira a piece). This action served as a commentary on the art market’s commodification of artists and objects. According to Kusama in an interview with Artspace, “what was most important about Narcissus Garden at Venice was my action of selling the mirror balls on the site, as if I were selling hot dogs or ice cream cones.” Even in 1966, Kusama proved to be a bold and fearless emerging artist, willing and eager to challenge the predominately white, male-dominated art world.
Connecting profoundly with global audiences, iterations of Narcissus Garden, each with their own distinct character, have subsequently been presented, both indoors and outdoors, on land and water, at venues around the world, including Yokohama, Japan, as part of the 2001 Triennale of Contemporary Art; Central Park, New York City, as part of the 2004 Whitney Biennial; The Glass House, New Canaan, CT in 2016; and, most recently, at Fort Tilden, NY for Rockaway! 2018 presented by MoMA PS1.
Momentary Assistant Curator Kaitlin Maestas says:
“What’s most exciting about the installation of Narcissus Garden at the Momentary is that this is the first time the work has been installed outdoors in an industrial setting. In thinking about where to install this incredibly playful, yet contemplative work, we were drawn to the unique architecture along the north side of the building. For me, this courtyard embodies the spirit of our building and the history of the factory, such as the old employee parking signs along the Quonset Hut. Through Kusama’s clever design, these mirrored orbs simultaneously reflect people, architecture, and the vast open sky. You can’t help but walk away feeling slightly more connected to the world around you.”
Now, you can experience this installation for yourself at the Momentary, completely free to enjoy. Narcissus Garden is now on view, located outdoors near the Quonset Hut, north of the building.
Cover photo credit: Yayoi Kusama, Narcissus Garden, 1966, stainless steel spheres, Collection of OZ Art. Courtesy of Ota Fine Art and Victoria Miro. © YAYOI KUSAMA.
Photography by Ironside Photography.