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Yayoi Kusama’s iconic ‘Pumpkin’ sculpture in Naoshima dislodged by typhoon

Museum volunteer Megan Walline experiences a Yayoi Kusama installation on Feb. 16, 2017, as the Hirshhorn Museum trains staff and volunteers in advance of the “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition in Washington. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

TOKYO — Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s iconic, polka-dotted yellow pumpkin sculpture on the island of Naoshima was dislodged Monday due to strong winds and high tide from a typhoon, and has been removed for restoration, the art exhibit confirmed.

Typhoon Lupit made landfall Sunday night in southwestern Japan, where Naoshima is located, bringing heavy rain and stormy winds throughout Monday.

Videos surfaced on social media of Kusama’s “Pumpkin” swept away from the pier, flipped over and tumbling on the shore as waves tossed it around.

Benesse Art Site, the exhibit that houses “Pumpkin,” confirmed on Monday afternoon in a tweet that the sculpture was damaged by the typhoon and was removed so that it can be restored. The exhibit said it would make an announcement once the artwork is on display again.

“Pumpkin,” located on the tip of the pier in Naoshima, remains one of the most recognized images of the island, with its vibrant yellow skin and black polka dots juxtaposed with the bright blue water in the background.

Since it was installed in 1994, “Pumpkin” has become a staple of the Benesse Art Site of Naoshima, also known as Japan’s art island because of its modern art museums and architecture, and displays of modern sculpture and installations around the island. The sculpture is about 6½ feet tall and just over 8 feet wide. It was one of the largest pumpkins that Kusama, known for her colorful shapes and patterns, had made at the time, and was her first open-air sculpture, according to the art site.

Kusama went on to create open-air sculptures, mainly pumpkins, in cities throughout the world. Pumpkins are a source of “radiant energy” and “inspiration for the artist since her childhood, when she was surrounded by her family’s seed nursery in prewar Japan,” according to the Smithsonian Institution.

The yellow pumpkins were prominently featured in Kusama’s 2017 “Infinity Mirrors” exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, and a version of “Pumpkin” was on display outside the museum throughout the course of the exhibition.

“Pumpkin” usually has been temporarily relocated in advance of a typhoon to protect it from potential damage. An Instagram video posted in 2019 by the account of Guesthouse Umikko, located near the art display, showed workers manually lifting the pumpkin and transporting it on the back of a truck before a typhoon.

On Monday, however, it appeared that winds and waves picked up unexpectedly. Several staff members of the art exhibit had watched the waves overtake the sculpture when there was high tide, according to local media.

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