By David Pendered
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama made her Narcissus Garden exhibit so controversial in 1966 at the Venice Biennale that organizers barred her from performing alongside the display. The Atlanta Botanical Garden intends to display the exhibit through Spring.
Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition at the High Museum of Art has been wildly popular, one of the hottest tickets in town and a virtual sell-out. Prices are well above $200 for each of the few tickets available from third-party handler stubhub.com. The High intends to release a final batch of tickets on Feb. 5, priced at $29 each, for the exhibit that ends Feb. 17.
The Narcissus Garden exhibition at the Atlanta Botanical Garden doesn’t seem to have stirred the level of buzz as Infinity Mirrors. Mores the pity, especially in a region that is both supportive of the arts and is viewed as the country’s cradle of the notion of non-violent protest.
Non-violent protest is just what Kusama seemed to be committing through the Narcissus Gardens presentation in 1966. Some say the performance art represented a protest of the commercialization of art.
Kusama unveiled Narcissus Garden at the 1966 at the 33rd Venice Biennale. The exhibit shook up the art world if only for the brazen behavior of the 37-year-old artist. Biennale officials ordered her to stop participating in her piece of performance art, according to a lesson by khanacademy.org:
- “The size of each sphere was similar to that of a fortune-teller’s crystal ball. When gazing into it, the viewer only saw his/her own reflection staring back, forcing a confrontation with one’s own vanity and ego.
- “During the opening week, Kusama placed two signs at the installation: ‘NARCISSUS GARDEN, KUSAMA’ and ‘YOUR NARCISSIUM [sic] FOR SALE’ on the lawn. Acting like a street peddler, she was selling the mirror balls to passers-by for two dollars each, while distributing flyers with Herbert Read’s complimentary remarks about her work on them. She consciously drew attention to the “otherness” of her exotic heritage by wearing a gold kimono with a silver sash.
- “The monetary exchange between Kusama and her customers underscored the economic system embedded in art production, exhibition and circulation. The Biennale officials eventually stepped in and put an end to her ‘peddling.’ But the installation remained.”
Kusama was ahead of her time at the 1966 Venice festival. Two years later, protests by artists led to the event remaining closed until 1986, according to a footnote in the lesson:
- “It is worth noting that the following Venice Biennale, in 1968, was marked by social and economic turmoil around the globe, and was struck by the student movement in Italy and a boycott by international artists. The Biennale was labeled as a fascist, capitalist, and commercial.
- “In contrast to Kusama’s action, many artists who were officially invited to participate decided to close exhibition halls, withdraw their works, and join street demonstrations resulting in the closure of the Biennale sales office and the end of Biennale prizes until 1986.”
Incidentally, khanacademy.org is a non-profit online educational program funded by entities including Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, each of which donated more than $10 million, according to a report on the organization’s website.