Yayoi Kusama My Soul Goes to the Sky, 1975

"In December 1975 I held my first solo show since my return to Japan, Message of Death from Hades, at the Nishimura Gallery in Tokyo. It featured a large number of collages." — Yayoi Kusama in Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London, 2013

Returning to Japan in 1973, depleted by the depression of a declining career in New York and a changing political climate in America, Yayoi Kusama relocated to Tokyo and was forced to essentially reboot her career. In stark contrast to her wild New York happenings and controversial phallic sculptures, this period of her life became a somber reflection on grief following the death of her partner and close friend, Joseph Cornell.

It was during this time that Kusama began intensively creating collages, acting as a memento mori, examining the transient nature of life and inevitability of death. These reflected her projected persona—a representation of her physical appearance and psyche at the time. Such dark collages may appear at odds with the rest of her body of work, yet, like My Soul Goes to the Sky and Souls of the Earth that Inhabit the Galaxy from our 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Hong Kong, they offer a glimpse into an important period in the artist's life.

Kusama first met Cornell in 1962 through an art dealer, and the two formed an unlikely bond.

Yayoi Kusama with Joseph Cornell in New York, 1970. © YAYOI KUSAMA. Joseph Cornell collage work, Untitled, 1967 (Private Collection of Yayoi Kusama) © YAYOI KUSAMA

Kusama first met Cornell in 1962 through an art dealer, and the two formed an unlikely bond—a passionate yet platonic relationship that lasted many years. Infatuated by her beauty, Cornell began showering her with endless letters and poetry, gifting her with his famously exclusive boxes filled with found objects, pages from old books, pictures of birds and butterflies and dime-store trinkets. Carrying Cornell's box filled with his own collage materials back to Japan, Kusama began assembling her collages using some of the materials he had left her, as an intimate tribute to her dearest friend. Both My Soul Goes to the Sky and Souls of the Earth that Inhabit the Galaxy are at once poetic and quietly introspective, hinting at unreachable realms beyond their surfaces.

Yayoi Kusama Souls of the Earth Breathing in the Galaxy, 1975

Exhibited at Kusama's first solo show since her return to Japan, Souls of the Earth that Inhabit the Galaxy offers a particularly poignant image that recalls her longing for unbounded freedom, reminiscent of her relationship with Cornell while also incorporating subtle traces of her ubiquitous Infinity Net motif.