Pumpkin (three works)

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Jean Gallery, Seoul
    Private Collection, Asia
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    As a rare triptych consisting of three exemplary versions of the artist’s most iconic subject, Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin is a powerful culmination of the artist’s creative achievements. Painted in 2002, these three unique canvases represent not only a lifetime dedicated to this charismatic and highly personal motif, but they also express Kusama’s accomplished technical ability and formal innovations within the realm of painting. Carving out an idiosyncratic space between abstraction, and figuration – evincing profound links to the repetitive symbolism of Pop Art, the hypnotic illusions of Op Art and the formal project of Minimalism – Pumpkin reifies Kusama as an influential figure within the history of contemporary art, whilst ultimately pertaining to a vision that is unequivocally hers and hers alone.

    Through ocularly sensational means, Kusama presents a universally familiar form. Her self-proclaimed obsession with the pumpkin is deeply rooted in her own childhood memories of growing up in Japan. Amidst widespread national food shortages during World War II, a storehouse of pumpkins that her family owned provided a crucial life line and sustained much of their home village of Matsumoto. The pumpkin took on even more personal and psychological significance for the artist as she began to suffer from vivid hallucinations during childhood. Seeing pumpkins in their multiplicity provided a rare source of comfort, in contrast to the more menacing associations she held regarding flowers and other plants. As Kusama has recalled of her earliest encounter with these gourds: ‘The first time I ever saw a pumpkin was when I was in elementary school and went with my grandfather to visit a big seed-harvesting ground…and there it was: a pumpkin the size of a man’s head… It immediately began speaking to me in a most animated manner’ (Yayoi Kusama quoted in Infinity Net, Yayoi Kusama, translated by Ralph McCarthy, London, 2011, p. 75.) Utilising a portrait orientation that mirrors the squat shape of the gourds, Kusama’s pumpkins fill the canvases, each boasting individual characteristics that give them a distinctly personified presence.

    Kusama first began sketching pumpkins when studying at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in the 1940s. Having gained success when moving to Tokyo and then New York City in 1958, it was not until 1975 that Kusama would decidedly return to the motif, after she retreated to a psychiatric hospital in Japan. Working prodigiously and finding solace in her art, Kusama began to combine the pumpkin motif with the Infinity Net structures and obliterating polka-dots that had already garnered her international notoriety. Kusama’s use of repetition and her tactic of ‘obliteration’ highlights the pumpkin as an important personal symbol of relief from anxiety, obsessive thoughts and frightening hallucinations: ‘I would confront the spirit of the pumpkin, forgetting everything else and concentrating my mind entirely on the form before me’ (Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London, 2015, n.p.) During the 1980s Kusama explored vibrantly contrasting colour variations and played with the two-dimensionality of black that punctuates the present work. As the pumpkin became firmly entrenched in her practice, the artist’s defining global moment came in 1993 when she presented Mirror Room (Pumpkin) in the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale. This historic installation combined numerous black-spotted yellow pumpkin sculptures in a mirrored room that gave the impression of an infinite abundant field.

    Painted in 2002, the present work represents Kusama’s mature style and the technical complexity that is testament to her dedication to the motif. Through a deft and accomplished handling of paint, Kusama combines minutely precise detailing with a rhythmic dotting of the pumpkins’ skins to create an enthralling visual experience. The dots increase in size towards the elevated centre of each lobe of the pumpkin, with the dots decreasing in size and increasing in frequency towards the outer edges and grooves that divide each segment. The resultant advance and recession of form imbues the canvas with a unique visual energy that is almost sculptural. Fastidiously regulated yet highly sensual, using pattern to connote form, Kusama blurs the lines between abstraction and figuration.

    Each work also achieves this sense of dynamic depth by contrasting a deep black with one of Kusama’s iconic primal colours that have visceral links to nature: the impassioned blood red, the verdant green of the forests and the glowing yellow of sunlight. Despite Kusama using only two tones on each pumpkin, her mastery of varied dot application means that she opens up the canvas to a nuanced cerebral realm that gives cathartic form to her personal view of the world.

    Forming the background of each canvas we see a web of thin neon lines delineate tessellated triangles, which cluster together to form a vast network of unending pattern. As with the artist’s Infinity Nets series, her insistence on repetition of shapes and dots here also becomes a way of rooting the place of the individual in the wider universe; a recognition that ‘Our earth is only one polka dot among millions of others’ (Yayoi Kusama, quoted in L. Hoptman, A. Tatehata, and U. Kulterann, Yayoi Kusama, London 2001, p. 103.) Conflating the personal and the universal, it is the life-giving significance of the pumpkin that Kusama celebrates, imbuing this quotidian vegetable with a sense of majesty and wonder.

  • Catalogue Essay

    草間彌生《南瓜》這罕見的三件作品,以三種獨到的風貌演繹藝術家最具代表性的主題,並展現了其藝術創造力的高峰。創作於2002年,此組作品不僅呈現了草間向來所專注的這個極具魅力又富個人色彩的主題,另外,更展現了她在繪畫領域精湛的技法以及在造型上的創新。草間在抽象與具象之間,獨創出一隅只屬於她的空間,她融貫了普普藝術中不斷重複的象徵符號,歐普藝術中似催眠般的視覺幻象,以及極簡主義在造型上的推演。此作《南瓜》具體佐證了草間彌生在當代藝術史上深具影響力的地位,同時並鮮明體現出其獨樹一格、無可取代的藝術願景。

    透過看似深具感官刺激的手法,草間彌生所呈現的卻是一種普世為人熟悉的藝術形式。其對於南瓜的迷戀,可以追溯到她自幼生長於日本的兒時回憶。二次世界大戰期間,日本全國處於食物短缺的困境,當時草間彌生家中所擁有的一間南瓜倉庫,不僅供應並且維繫了其故鄉松本市居民的命脈。此外,草間在幼年時期便深受幻覺之苦,南瓜對於她來說,不管在個人或是心理層面,皆具備了深刻的意義。相較於花朵,或是其他植物,所帶給她略具威脅意味的聯想,南瓜多重的影像,卻為她提供了一種罕有的精神慰藉來源。草間曾如此追憶著她首次見到南瓜的情景:「第一次見到南瓜,是在小學的時候,跟爺爺一起去到一大片收成的南瓜田…就這樣,一顆像人的頭一般大的南瓜…它立刻以最生動的方式與我對談話。」(摘錄自草間彌生於《無限網:草間彌生》,羅夫・麥卡錫翻譯,倫敦,2011年,第75頁)。藝術家在此以肖像畫的格式,將南瓜蹲坐的姿態投射在畫布上,並將其放大、佔滿了整個空間,讓每個南瓜各自綻放出不同的個人色彩與性格。

    草間早先開始進行南瓜的描繪,可回溯到1940年代她在京都市立美術學校的時期。在搬至東京以及爾後1958年至紐約之後,她逐漸開啟成名之路,卻一直到1975年返回日本進入一家精神醫院後,才決定重新探索南瓜這個主題。草間大量創作,並在藝術中找到安撫心靈的力量,她開始將南瓜主題和她已在國際藝壇為人熟知的《無限網》的架構以及數不清的圓點,結合為一。透過不斷的重複與「消弭」,南瓜躍升為一個重要的個人符號象徵,成為她從焦慮、偏執及駭人幻覺走出的解脫。「我直接面對南瓜的靈魂,忘卻所有的事,全心貫注在我眼前的藝術形式。」(草間彌生,《無限網:草間彌生自傳》,倫敦,2015年,無頁數)。在1980年代,草間積極地試煉色彩間的對比變化,並探索黑色所具備的二元平面空間感,這些意圖在此件作品中也清晰可見。正當南瓜確立了在草間創作歷程中的位置,她在1993年威尼斯雙年展日本館裡所呈現的《鏡屋(南瓜)》,也為其再度確立她在國際藝壇的名聲。那件具歷史意義的裝置作品,將無數個帶有黑色圓點的黃色南瓜雕塑,放在裝滿鏡子的房間裡,衍生出無窮無盡的豐富視覺場域。

    創作於2002年,此件作品中的成熟風格及高度繁複的技法,無疑是草間窮極一生來琢磨南瓜這個主題的極佳體現。透過顏料純熟的掌控,她將極度精準的細節以及南瓜上具節奏性的圓點巧妙結合,創作出奇幻的視覺經驗。圓點在南瓜突起的中間區塊,以逐漸變大的趨勢來呈現;反之,在每個分界的邊緣與轉角,圓點則慢慢變小,並漸漸疏散開來。如此漸進的前進與退後的形式安排,為作品注入一股幾乎近似雕塑般的獨特視覺能量。草間的作品極端講究規律,卻又高度的感性,更以圖案來表達造型,完全模糊了抽象與具象之間看似壁壘分明的傳統界限。

    這三件作品中也傳遞了同樣的視覺動感,每幅作品裡,皆以深黑來對比草間彌生最具代表性的原色使用:熱情的紅色、森林的碧綠和陽光般的銘黃,與大自然做出深刻的結合。儘管她在此的各個南瓜僅僅使用了兩個色調,但她筆下圓點變化無窮的精妙安排,卻像是以畫布開通了一個進入她精神空間的渠道一般,透過這樣的形式來抒發她個人的世界觀。

    在畫作的背景裏,草間則是以纖細的霓虹色線編織出若似棋盤般的三角形,整體形成了一片無窮盡的網絡圖案。正如同其《無限網》系列作品,她在此以不斷重複的形狀與圓點,在廣大宇宙中為個體定位出一個立足點,呼應了她曾經這樣說過:「我們的地球只不過是其他億萬顆圓點的其中一顆罷了。」(摘錄自草間彌生於哈普特曼、塔特哈塔及庫特然合著《草間彌生》,倫敦,2001年,第103頁)。草間彌生的藝術揉合了個人與普世價值,歌頌著南瓜在她回憶中賦予生命延續的重要意義,為這個平凡的植物注入了一份尊榮與驚奇。

  • Artist Bio

    Yayoi Kusama

    Japanese • 1929

    Named "the world's most popular artist" in 2015, it's not hard to see why Yayoi Kusama continues to dazzle contemporary art audiences globally. From her signature polka dots—"fabulous," she calls them—to her mirror-and-light Infinity Rooms, Kusama's multi-dimensional practice of making art elevates the experience of immersion. To neatly pin an artistic movement onto Kusama would be for naught: She melds and transcends the aesthetics and theories of many late twentieth century movements, including Pop Art and Minimalism, without ever taking a singular path. 

    As an octogenarian who still lives—somewhat famously—in a psychiatric institution in Tokyo and steadfastly paints in her immaculate studio every day, Kusama honed her punchy cosmic style in New York City in the 1960s. During this period, she staged avant-garde happenings, which eventually thrust her onto the international stage with a series of groundbreaking exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1980s and the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993. She continues to churn out paintings and installations at inspiring speed, exhibiting internationally in nearly every corner of the globe, and maintains a commanding presence on the primary market and at auction. 

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Pumpkin (three works)

2002
each signed, titled and dated 'Yayoi Kusama 2002 "PUMPKIN" [in Kanji and English]' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
each 53 x 45.5 cm. (20 7/8 x 17 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2002, these works are accompanied by three registration cards issued by the Yayoi Kusama Studio.

Estimate
HK$15,000,000 - 20,000,000 
€1,680,000-2,240,000
$1,920,000-2,560,000

Contact Specialist
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018