INTO: The Whimsical Beauty of Yayoi Kusama’s Macy’s Day Parade Balloon

“Into” is a series dedicated to objects, artworks, garments, exhibitions, and all orders of things that we are into—and there really isn’t a lot more to it than that. Today: Evalena Labayen explores the complex Thanksgiving creation of the legendary artist Yayoi Kusama.

Yayoi Kusama was the 90-year-old, red haired, spiritual guru we needed this Thanksgiving to spread light and happiness, and to prevent me from yanking a child off their parent’s shoulders to see her balloon bob down Sixth Avenue. Just kidding, I watched it from home in my Napoleon Dynamite pajamas, wrapped in a fleece blanket, as our ancestors intended. Kusama’s balloon for this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, “Love Flies Up to the Sky,” aptly represents Kusama’s quest to bring peace and love to our sad, deranged world, with a whimsical, slightly deranged looking sun-octopus creature complete with Kusama’s signature dot art. It’s hard to pin down exactly what the balloon is—sun beams could be tentacles, an orb could be a head, dots could be freckles. As Kusama once said, “Dots are a symbol of the world. The cosmos. The Earth is a dot… you and me, we are dots.”

Amidst Kusama’s lifetime of achievements, the balloon is a testament to the artist’s boundary-breaking abilities, as this makes her the first woman to fly a balloon into Macy’s pantheon of beloved childhood characters. Attending the balloon’s inflation, however, was equal parts inspirational and pitiful. Wedged between a coiled “Wiggly Worm” and a mammoth Spongebob face down (ass up), “Love Flies Up to the Sky” was the little engine that could. As tour guides and volunteers struggled to pronounce “Yayoi,” onlookers marveled loudly at the unique beauty of Kusama’s creation. The face of the balloon remained flattened against the ground for hours, as volunteers manhandled the various limbs. But as the sun cleared over that dreary New York day, its bulbous, blue eyes and mouth finally lifted itself to the audience. I’m still conflicted over the expression of the balloon. My initial reaction settled on panicked, judging by those vacant eyes and protruding mouth, but after some thought, it could be attempting a loving, kissy-emoji-esque expression: eyes wide, mouth slightly open, blushing cheeks. A high school girl’s duck face, if you will. Either way, the balloon elicited the same feeling of perplexed wonder in me as the giggling, baby-faced sun rising over the hills of the Teletubbies. What once started as a mound of deflated red plastic slowly but surely sprouted into a victory of modern art for the masses.