Yoyoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden 1966/2002

Yayoi Kusama is everywhere right now. By this I mean she is the subject of large retrospective exhibitions worldwide and her work is captured, circulated, and seen by millions of people every day on social media. So why choose a work from the Collection that has most likely been ‘liked’ by everyone?

For three years I had the pleasure of working in the Queensland Art Gallery building, designed by architect Robin Gibson, AO (1930–2014), and recently placed on the Queensland Heritage Register. From my vantage point, I could peer down into the watermall, a particularly challenging space to exhibit artworks. More than the logistics of installing precious works of art over water, the space itself — its visual logic of filtered lighted and coarse concrete surfaces —places its own demands on the works displayed. Huang Yong Ping’s Ressort 2012, the serpent spiral, faced this challenge head on through its menacing scale and sense of movement, while Ai Weiwei’s chandelier-like sculpture Boomerang 2006 emanated an incandescent glow that would, on its own terms, measure up to the watermall.

For this reason, I’ve selected Kusama’s Narcissus garden 1966/2002 as my favourite Collection work. Narcissus, according to the English Oxford Dictionary, is ‘a beautiful youth who rejected the nymph Echo and fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. He pined away and was changed into the flower that bears his name’. Comprised of approximately 2000 mirrored balls, the work is shaped by both the currents and limits of the water. Clusters and constellations are formed, reflecting the building’s architecture back onto itself from an infinite number of angles. Not unlike the myth, there is a dreamy yet sinister aspect to the work — it mesmerizes at the same time that it forces one to look away. Narcissus garden has appeared in other gallery spaces, but the challenge and metaphor of the iteration in water make it my favourite.

So I admire this work from a safe distance, a distance that allows me to consider and reflect on the expanding role of architecture in art or, indeed, architecture as art.

This was originally published in Artlines 2 – 2017