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Keep an eye out for a big red blob with white polka dots and puckered lips flying high over the high school marching bands at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It looks like an octopus, kind of. Or maybe a smiling sun? No wait, it’s a super-round Red Delicious with eyes and tentacles!
“Actually none of us at Macy’s even really know what it is,” the parade’s executive producer, Susan Tercero, admits to ELLE.com. And that’s the point. The beauty of renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s work, which you’ve more than likely stumbled across on Instagram, lies in its undefinability.
“Love Flies Up to the Sky,” the 34-foot-tall balloon designed by Kusama five months ago, is based on an ethereal character from her semi-retrospective exhibition “My Eternal Soul.” The enigmatic 90-year-old artist is known around the globe for her funky, psychedelic pumpkin sculptures (which Louis Vuitton turned into handbags) and her Infinity Rooms that, like moth to flame, attract aesthetic-hungry influencers. But it’s her ability to evoke real emotion through the simplest polka dot pattern or flower wall that makes her one of the most beloved contemporary creators on the planet. It’s also what attracted top brass at Macy’s.
As the highest-selling living female artist in the world, Kusama is the crown jewel—and the first woman—on an impressive list of folks Macy’s has commissioned to create balloons, including KAWS, Jeff Koons, Tom Otterness, and Keith Haring. Her whimsical work, Tercero felt, aligned perfectly with the vibrancy of the parade. When in-house engineers sent Kusama suggestive size and shape parameters this summer, they had only one nonnegotiable ballon design element: “It had to be super unique and super colorful!” Tercero says.
Of course, that wasn’t an issue for Kusama. One week after signing off on the project, she emailed over a fantastical two-dimensional layout complete with red tentacles and over 300 polka dots. Macy’s staffers quickly got to work developing a three-dimensional computer design, and, later, a miniature model.
The finished product was unveiled last month during “Balloonfest” in New Jersey. At the event, Tercero’s 3-year-old son pointed at the big red “spiky moon” flying high in sky. “That’s my favorite!” he shrieked. Tercero wasn’t surprised—it’s one of her favorites, too.
There’s something wonderfully universal about Kusama’s work. As ELLE.com’s own digital art director Mia Feitel put it, her innate ability to bring a “democratic quality to her work gives it instant mass appeal. The idea that you can spread happiness through a red polka-dot, or that a hall of mirrors can transport you to infinity — is something that can be understood by every culture [and] city.”
Tercero predicts “Love Flies Up to the Sky“ will be the favorite from this year’s parade (if the balloons still fly!). Though she can’t reveal where it’ll appear in the lineup or when, she says some 40 carriers are needed to fly it. Until parade day, which starts at 9 A.M. on Thanksgiving, it’ll be kept under lock and key in a large New Jersey storage studio where Macy’s houses all of their floats and balloons. Tercero hopes they can work with Kusama again in the future.
“Commissioning an artist who is so well known globally is a real accomplishment for the parade,” she says. “It’s going to be hard to beat this in the future.”