Yayoi Kusama’s site-specific installation "Narcissus Garden" opened to the public in the Rockaways on Sunday. Comprised of 1,500 mirrored stainless steel spheres, the work fills much of the floor of a former train garage in Fort Tilden, a former active U.S. military base. MoMA PS1's Klaus Biesenbach was on hand at the unveiling Friday (along with musician, author and Rockaway resident Patti Smith), and said he hopes it will "continue to raise awareness of the ongoing restoration work and efforts to ensure the Rockaways are prepared for future effects of climate change."
"The mirrored metal surfaces reflect the industrial surroundings of the now-abandoned building, drawing attention to Fort Tilden’s history as well as the devastating damage inflicted on many buildings in the area by Hurricane Sandy in 2012," according to the announcement from MoMA PS1.
Biesenbach also noted that "when Kusama was living in New York, [she] did performances in public places and parks and was not only an anti-war, civil rights activist but also organized the first gay wedding in the United States and created courageous happening all over the city." Those performances included bringing "Narcissus Garden" to the Body Festival (1967) in Tompkins Square Park, the Bust Out Happening (1969) in Central Park, the sculpture garden of The Museum of Modern Art, and more. The piece debuted before all that, however, in Italy:
Narcissus Garden was first presented in 1966 when Kusama staged an unofficial installation and performance at the 33rd Venice Biennale. The silver spheres, originally made from plastic, were installed on the lawn in front of the Italian Pavilion, reflecting the landscape of the exhibition grounds. Kusama herself stood among them, barefoot and dressed in a gold kimono, alongside yard signs inscribed with the words “Narcissus Garden, Kusama” and “Your Narcissism for Sale.” Throughout the opening day of the exhibition, Kusama remained in the installation, tossing the spheres in the air and offering to sell them to visitors for 1200 lire (approximately $2) each. The action, which was viewed both as self-promotion and a critique on the commercialization of contemporary art, would later be seen as a pivotal moment in Kusama’s career as she transitioned from installation towards the radical and politically charged public performances that would be the focus of her work in the late 1960s in New York City.
The installation — brought in as the third iteration of the the Rockaway! art festival — can be found at the Gateway National Recreation Area of Fort Tilden through September 3rd. The building will be open Friday-Sunday and holidays, 12-6 p.m.