A photo of a turkey float taken at the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Photo credit: Hoover Tung / Shutterstock

For many Americans, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marks the unofficial beginning of the winter holiday season. The hours-long spectacle winds through the streets of New York City and is broadcast to more than 50 million viewers on television. And this year, the parade is honoring Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, one of the world’s most famous and beloved artists.

Kusama is one of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. In the early 1960s, at the beginning of her career, she was inspired to combine pop art and minimalism, which has led to a highly personal style that resonates with global audiences. Her work frequently incorporates repetitive elements such as dots to evoke both macroscopic and microscopic universes.

Kusama’s balloon will carry one of her signature poetic titles, Love Flies up to the Sky. It features a personified sun with an open mouth. Attached to the face are dozens of red tentacles covered with more than 300 white polka dots.

“Her work lends itself to that playful whimsy that we like to see in the sky,” Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Executive Producer Susan Tercero told ARTnews. “What’s fantastic about her art, and why I think she’s so world-renowned, is that it is so accessible. Everyone can look at her art and appreciate it, understand it, and feel something from it, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Yayoi Kusama balloon measures 30 feet long, 36 feet wide, and 34 feet tall. About 20 people will be needed to walk the balloon down from Central Park West on the Upper West Side, to Sixth Avenue, home of Macy’s flagship building.

The timing just happened to be right this year. Tercero said the parade’s organizers have wanted to work with Kusama for years, but with an exhibition of her work scheduled to open November 9 at the David Zwimmer Gallery in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, it made sense to feature her work in this year’s parade.

Kusama’s balloon is part of the parade’s Blue Sky Gallery program, which has also invited artists like Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and KAWS to design balloons for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Kusama is the first woman to take part in the program.

The balloon project is a collaboration between the artist’s studio and Macy’s balloon specialists, who built the design conceived by the studio.

“We’re able to take an artist’s creation and with our in-house artists bring it to life,” Tercero said. “We’re excited to re-create Kusama’s artistry and bring it to a parade scale.”