T his summer Yayoi Kusama’ s celebrated installation Narcissus Garden (1966–present) is on view as part of a Rockaway!, a public art festival in collaboration with MoMA PS1 at Fort Tilden beach in Queens, New York.
Inside the run-down metal remains of what was once a U.S. military base garage one finds a sprawling display of 1,500 silver spheres, scattered in organized disarray. In 2012 Hurricane Sandy devastated Fort Tilden and the surrounding Rockway and Breezy Point neighborhoods and the garage’s ruined state is magnified by the reflections of Kusama’s mirrored orbs. This is one of many occasions Kusama has creatively engaged with the fabric of New York City over the course of her decades-long career, with notable predecessors including Body Festival (1967) in both Tompkins Square Park and Washington Square Park and Bust Out Happening (1969) in Central Park.
The now 89-year-old Japanese artist first installed Narcissus Garden in 1966 on the lawn in front of the Italian Pavilion at the 33rd Venice Biennale. As part of a performance, Kusama stood barefoot in a gold kimono offering the orbs for sale next to signs that read, “Narcissus Garden, Kusama” and “Your Narcissism for Sale.” Since then its been install internationally many times over — each unique installation reflecting the influence of its environment. Most recently, in 2016, it was installed tranquilly in the pond at Philip Johnson's iconic The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut.
One of the intentions of the installation is to help revitalize an area still recovering from the effects of the 2012 hurricane. “Six years after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Rockaways, the vulnerable area is still fighting for rebuilding and resilience, ” said Klaus Biesenbach, Director, MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator-at-Large, Museum of Modern Art. MoMa PS1’s Rockaway! has previously commissioned and installed works by contemporary artists Patti Smith, Adrián Villar Rojas and Janet Cardiff. In 2016 German artist Katharina Grosse memorably spray-painted the remains of Fort Tilden’s former aquatics building at the Gateway National Recreation Area.