Robert Kobayashi, who delighted and mystified passers-by for decades with the whimsical displays of his art in the window of Moe’s Meat Market on Elizabeth Street in the NoLIta neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, died on Dec. 14, at his home in Honolulu. He was 90.
In 1977, Mr. Kobayashi bought the building housing the butcher shop for $35,000 and turned it into his personal gallery, mounting impromptu exhibitions of his nail-studded tin sculptures and reliefs, some of which he hung from meat hooks, and paintings and sculptures in a variety of styles.
His window of wonders became a fixture in the neighborhood, though the door to the building remained locked, meaning that the curious could only press their noses against the glass.
Mr. Kobayashi neither courted nor found success with commercial galleries. For many years he worked in the warehouse of the Museum of Modern Art, which hired him in the mid-’50s as a gardener for a traditional Japanese house that was reassembled and exhibited for two years.
Mr. Kobayashi actually knew nothing about gardening.
“I just kept quiet and everyone thought I couldn’t speak English,” he told Alec Wilkinson, a writer for The New Yorker who wrote the catalog essay for “Tattooed Angel: Paintings and Sculpture by Robert Kobayashi” at the Nassau County Museum of Art in 1988. “If I came up with a horticultural problem, I ran across the street to the library and did some research.”