Why Did Yoko Ono’s Arboretum Art Installation in New York Shut Down Early? ‘Unfortunately, Trees Died’

The trees had been growing out of coffins.

Yoko Ono's Ex It at Faurschou New York. Courtesy Faurschou New York.

This week, the foundation Faurschou New York made the decision to shutter an installation of Yoko Ono’s work Ex It—an indoor arboretum of dogwood and evergreen trees planted in coffins—after four of the trees included in the work died. The installation had opened in April as a major part of the three-artist exhibition “Embrace the World from Within,” which also included works by artists Miles Greenberg and Louise Bourgeois.

Earlier this week, visitors to the foundation found the entrance to the gallery featuring Ono’s installation blocked by sheets of what appeared to be white foam board. No signage indicated the closure at that time. A soundtrack of chirping birds that accompanies the installation seemed to be turned off. Another of Ono’s works, We’re All Water, which consists of glass bottles filled with water and individually labeled with the name of a famous person, had also been on view in the sealed-off gallery space. 

Asked about the unexpected closure, an employee at the foundation’s front desk apologized and explained that, “unfortunately, all the trees died,” adding “We tried everything we could” and then offered to show images of the installation instead. Faurschou New York, however, says that the staffer was misinformed and that out of the installation’s 100 trees “4 were discarded as they were not deemed healthy” and of the remainder “6 were donated to an artist to be part of a landscape project, 90 were donated to Marcy Green Center” as part of the “Under The K Bridge Park” in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Faurschou New York conceded that “the date for the donation was indeed pushed forward to ensure the health of the trees” however. The installation had been scheduled to be on view through September 17, 2023. The Greenberg and Bourgeois galleries remain fully open to the public.

Ex It has been presented by Faurschou New York in other venues previously, including at the foundation’s Beijing location as part of the 2015 exhibition “Golden Ladders.” Iterations of Ex It have also been exhibited at Contemporary Art Centre in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2022, and at Deitch Projects in 1998. These exhibitions concluded without any reported issues. 

Ono’s leafy installation is meant to evoke a spirit of hope and rebirth in the face of horrifying global events, with trees growing from plain wood coffins reminiscent of natural disaster response. The blossoming, sweet-smelling trees along with the joyful soundtrack of birdsong, meanwhile offer sensory experiences of hope for renewal and act as reminders of humanity’s ties to the earth and one another. 

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