October 7, 2012


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Lot 342: Yayoi Kusama

Lot 342: Yayoi Kusama


Handpainted acrylic and mixed media collage on paper
Signed and dated lower right; signed and dated; inscribed in Japanese on verso of frame
Sheet: 25.5" x 19.5"; Frame: 26.5" x 20.75"
Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000
Price Realized: $37,500
Inventory Id: 3708

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Japanese artist, writer, and fashion designer Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929) eschews all classification and refers to herself as an obsessional artist. Escaping her overbearing mother in Japan, in the early 1950s she arrived in New York at age 29 with a portfolio of drawings and only a few words of English. Eighteen months later at her first show, her infinity net canvases - a web of minute brushstrokes painted “to establish a ‘distance’ between herself and the world” - earned her praise from Donald Judd and comparisons to Jackson Pollock. As her work gained attention in America and Europe, in New York public parks she staged “body festivals” comprised of nude models covered in polka dots, one of her trademark patterns that she continues to utilize in her sculptures, paintings, and installations. Her obsessive-compulsive disorder forced her to move back to Japan and check into a mental institution where she has resided since 1975. As the art world quickly forgot about Kusama, she established a studio near the hospital and continued her incessant painting, sculpting, and writing as a form of therapy: “I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings.”

Beginning in late 1980s, Kusama’s meticulous devotion to art making as an expression of her mental disorder caught the attention of museums and collectors. After the success of her infinity mirrored room at the 1993 Venice Biennale, an exhibition of solo work from her time in New York from 1956-1968 was held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998. Her success continues with countless public polka-dotted pumpkin and flower sculptures throughout the world, in addition to major retrospectives, including a 2011 retrospective that opened at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, traveling to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Tate Modern in London, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2012. Each piece Kusama creates, especially her drawings, are infused with curious optical effects that result from an endless, labor-intensive process. In Birds (1981), Kusama layered pattern over pattern to produce a visual taxonomy of birds. Flowing red bricks provide a background for pattern rich plumage and black and white polka dots, preserving them in serene stasis.

Hasegawa, Yuko, and Pamela Miki. “The Spell to Re-integrate the Self: The Significance of the Work of Yayoi Kusama in the New Era.” After All: A Journal of Art, Context, and Inquiry 13 (Spring/Summer 2006): 46-53. Print.Moos, David, and Yayoi Kusama. Yayoi Kusama: Early Drawings from the Collection of Richard Castellane. Birmingham: Birmingham Museum of Art, 2000. Print.Turner, Grady, and Yayoi Kusama. “Yayoi Kusama.” BOMB 66 (Winter, 1999): 62-69. Print.