Last Sunday, Typhoon Lupit made landfall on Naoshima, a Japanese island known for its rich array of art, bringing heavy rain and winds of up to 78 miles per hour. Most of the island’s famed artworks escaped the storm unscathed. But Pumpkin, a large, black-and-yellow sculpture by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, was swept from its perch at the edge of a pier and sent tumbling into the Seto Inland Sea.
Employees from Benesse Art Site, which owns and maintains Pumpkin, managed to rescue the sculpture from the waves. But the artwork sustained damage and had to be removed from view for restoration, according to a statement. Videos captured by onlookers showed at least one visible crack in the fiberglass statue, reports Madeleine Luckel for Architectural Digest.
As Michelle Ye Hee Lee writes for the Washington Post, Benesse Art Site typically moves Pumpkin ahead of inclement weather to safeguard it from damage. Locals have previously uploaded videos of workers transporting the pumpkin on a truck before a typhoon.
When winds picked up unexpectedly on Monday morning, however, employees were left with few options beyond watching the waves batter the sculpture, reports the Asahi Shimbun. They eventually recovered the pumpkin around high tide.
“We have already collected the parts and we are about to inspect the damage and also [assess] if it’s possible to recover the work,” a spokesperson tells the Art Newspaper’s Gareth Harris. “We are willing to re-exhibit the work on the same spot but we don’t know how long this [restoration] process will take.”
The 6-foot-tall, 8-foot-wide work is one of the most prominent in Kusama’s vast oeuvre. Born in Japan in 1929, she began creating paintings as a child, around the same time that she first started experiencing hallucinations.
“[These] hallucinations … would overwhelm her senses and effectively cut her off from her surroundings,” Betsy Johnson, an assistant curator at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, told Smithsonian magazine earlier this year. “At times it was as if a thin, grey veil had fallen around her, temporarily transporting her to another realm.”
Though Kusama was a talented adolescent, her parents were abusive and often discouraged her from pursuing a career as an artist. At one point, Kusama’s mother took away her canvases and destroyed them, pushing her daughter to instead become a housewife. But she continued to create art in secret and eventually left her home country to make it as an artist in New York City, per a Tate Britain blog post.
[Notice]— ベネッセアートサイト直島 (@benesse_artsite) August 10, 2021
The exhibition of Benesse House’s outdoor work “Pumpkin” has been cancelled due to the damage caused by Typhoon No.9.
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Shigeo Anzai pic.twitter.com/tWbbkZckjH
Kusama began incorporating polka dots and mesh patterns in her paintings, sculptures and installations in the 1950s, according to Benesse’s quarterly magazine. These motifs appear in many of her works, including Pumpkin, which was installed on Naoshima in 1994.
“[T]he work was one of the largest pumpkins Kusama had made up to that point, and it was also her first sculpture created with an initial intention to be exhibited in [the] open-air,” the magazine states. “Although a familiar landscape typically becomes mundane before we know it, Kusama’s Pumpkin … continuously changes the everyday landscape into something new.”
As the Hirshhorn noted ahead of the 2017 exhibition “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” Kusama is drawn to pumpkins as a source of “radiant energy.” Simultaneously “endearing and grotesque,” the gourds have inspired the artist since her youth, when her family had a seed nursery.
This week’s accident wasn’t the first time that one of Kusama’s pumpkins sustained damage: In February 2017, the Hirshhorn closed its blockbuster “Infinity Mirrors” show for three days after a visitor “took an accidental misstep” and broke one of the illuminated pumpkins on view, as spokeswoman Allison Peck told the New York Times’ Christine Hauser.
“It was very much an accident,” Peck said.