Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • “Pumpkins talk to me. Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins. Giving off an aura of my sacred mental state. They embody a base for the joy of living, a living shared by all humankind on the earth. It is for the pumpkins that I keep going.”
    — Yayoi Kusama 

    With its charming, jolly and peaceful presence, the pumpkin is unequivocally the most iconic motif of Kusama’s career. Full, symmetrical and voluptuous, the current work is an exquisite example of the artist’s highly coveted pumpkin paintings. Vibrantly rendered in golden yellow juxtaposed against ebony black, Pumpkin is undeniably and distinctly Kusama in its sharp contrast. An early example that is archetypal of Kusama’s pumpkin motif, the current work masterfully encapsulates the artist’s obsessional focus on accumulation, repetition, and the infinite through the combination of the three pillars that define her artistic practice – dots, nets, and the pumpkin.


    Intricate in its execution and instantly arresting, Pumpkin is the epitome of the artist’s unique artistic expression through which she achieves self-obliteration through repetition. The multi-sized striated black dots in Pumpkin slither over the golden surface of the gourd’s bulbous form, creating an optical illusion of depth through varied sizes that showcases Kusama’s unparalleled skill and dexterity in her command of the medium. These all-encompassing dots coalesce into waves of pattern set against a latticed background, together forming a fluctuating visual field that moves beyond the picture plane, drawing the viewer into a delicate web of colour and shape.



    Detail of the present lot


    A Passionate Cause


    One of the highest valued works by the artist to ever be offered at auction, Pumpkin is fresh to the market, coming from the esteemed collection of the Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum in Clarinda, Iowa, United States. The sale proceeds will further the Museum’s critical mission of promoting the Arts to a global community of enthusiasts, while also supporting local Arts and Youth programs.


    “Pumpkins are lovable and their wonderfully wild and humorous atmosphere never ceases to capture the hearts of people. I [have] adored pumpkins as my spiritual home since childhood and with their infinite spirituality they contribute to the peace of mankind across the world and to the celebration of humanity and by doing so, they make me feel at peace.”
    — Yayoi Kusama

    A playful and endearing rumination of the artist's most beloved vegetable, Pumpkin is a cheerful image that is representative of a piece of happiness and comfort during the artist’s childhood. The symbolic meaning of this charming gourd serendipitously aligns with the charitable cause behind the sale of Pumpkin. An imagery that is known and loved by children worldwide, pumpkins possess a positive, warm nature that perfectly complements the museum’s continued desire to provide a safe haven for art and culture within their community.



     The Clarinda Carnegie Art Museum, Iowa, United States


    The Perfect Pumpkin


    Brilliantly luminous and flawlessly executed, Pumpkin is a star example from Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre that marries her eminent pumpkin iconography with her iconic polka dots – both signature motifs that explores the artist’s obsession with infinite repetition. Each circle is scrupulously painted and perfectly round; each meticulously crafted row of multi-striated dots vibrates with rhythm and dances fluidly across the body of the gourd. The overall form is curvaceous and almost perfectly symmetrical, radiating with joyous energy that is highly anthropomorphic and affectious.



    Detail of the present lot


    Upon close inspection, the tightly and dexterously woven lattice behind hums with the rhythmic intensity of the pattern. An iconic iteration of the artist’s most distinctive infinity net motif, these labyrinthine yet organic lines pulsate with palpable energy, establishing a spellbinding sense of pictorial space. This intricate and labour-intensive technique envelops both the viewer and the artist in the concept of the infinite, and stands as a testament to Kusama’s astonishing dedication to creation and technique.


    "Just as Bodhidharma spent ten years facing a stone wall, I spent as much as a month facing a single pumpkin. I regretted even having to take time to sleep."
    — Yayoi Kusama


    An Affinity to Nature


    One of the most beloved and universally ubiquitous images of contemporary art today, Kusama’s bright and brilliantly patterned pumpkins are central to the artist’s widely celebrated oeuvre. The pumpkin is almost synonymous with Yayoi Kusama – much like the Campbell's soup can is to Andy Warhol – a motif that serves as both a mode of self representation and a universal signature of the artist. According to Kusama, she prefers to paint pumpkins not only because they are attractive in both colour and form, but also tender to the touch.



    Yayoi Kusama at the age of ten, 1939
    Image: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    Kusama’s profound connection with the pumpkin motif can be traced back to her upbringing on her family’s large plant nursery in Matsumoto, surrounded by fields of flowers, rolling mountains and forests. Describing a vivid hallucinogenic episode that she had around the age of 10, the artist recalled: ‘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.’ i Since then, Kusama has always held positive and fond memories for pumpkins.


    Closely tied to her childhood, plants and the natural world provide an important biographical foundation for Kusama’s artistic interest in accumulation and repetition; much of her work demonstrates her affinity to nature, as the artist incorporates organic patterns and an elemental palette. This naturalistic source of inspiration and aesthetic pursuit is shared by artists such as Paul Cézanne and Georgia O’Keeffe, who were both artists renowned for their particular focus on one subject – apples and flowers respectively.



    Georgia O'Keeffe Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, 1932
    Collection of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas
     Image: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Benonville, Arskanas / Edward C. Robinson III, Artwork: © 2023 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Possessing a dreamlike quality, O’Keeffe’s works such as Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 abstracts the surface of the flower’s bracts, their smoothly executed surfaces stand in bold contrast with her choice of bold, luminous colour. Similar to Kusama, O’Keeffe also drew from her memory and imagination to conceive paintings that capture ‘the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.’ ii Coincidentally, it was also O’Keeffe who encouraged and helped Kusama on her move to New York in pursuit of an art career. Recalling this inspiration, Kusama had said: ‘When I was young, a stroke of luck led me to a book with paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe. I dreamed of going to America and escaping my family, even though I knew no one there. After seeing her paintings in this book, I wrote to her. She responded with great kindness and generosity. Her letter gave me the courage I needed to leave for New York.’ iii



    Paul Cézanne, Apples, 1878-79
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
    Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1961, 61.103


    Just like Kusama’s pumpkins, Cézanne’s apples are also artistic icons in their own right. Cézanne once declared that ‘With an apple I want to astonish Paris’ iv. Cézanne’s mission was to rethink how three-dimensional objects could be captured in paint and to include multiple viewpoints rather than just one. By depicting an apple in this manner, the artist not only brilliantly captures the likeliness of an apple, but also the truth of how we might perceive one in a physical setting, resulting in a new direction for representation in art that challenges form and perspective. Over the years, Kusama has recreated the image of the pumpkin across a plethora of mediums – from pumpkin sculptures, paintings, infinity rooms, to pumpkin charm bracelets and pumpkin polka-dot printed shoes, elevating an everyday gourd into a contemporary art icon. Both Cézanne and Kusama reinvented artistic representation of their time through their own unique vision, resulting in works that are inextricably tied with their own name and oeuvre.



    Artistic Genealogy of the Pumpkin


    The initial manifestation of the pumpkin motif emerged during Kusama’s Nihonga practice at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in the late 1940s; recalling this period, Kusama wrote: ‘During my time in Kyoto I diligently painted pumpkins, which in later years would become an important theme in my art.’ v



    Left: Onions, 1948
    Collection of the Artist
    Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA

    Right: The present lot


    As seen in her works such as Onions that was executed during the same period, elements such as a hypnotic chequered background and bulbous forms were always a part of Kusama’s artistic genealogy, but went through tremendous development to evolve into the mature form that is Pumpkin today. In the 1970s, the pumpkin appears in the artist’s works such as The Memory of the Pumpkin and the Lizard, 1975. During this time, the shape of the pumpkin was not yet formalised into its balanced round form as seen today. However, elements such as its net pattern and collaged elements on the surface of the pumpkin will soon evolve into the polka dot motif that takes over the entire surface of the gourd in Kusama’s later works. These early drawings demonstrate Kusama’s obsession with a net/dot pattern that was in place since the very beginning of her career as a professional artist, and illustrate the initial conception and formation of her iconic imagery that stemmed from her childhood hallucinations.

  • Making its formal entrance in a more matured form, Kusama’s pumpkins reappeared a few decades later in the 1980s, as seen in the second solo exhibition for the artist held at Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo in 1984. During this time, Kusama began to incorporate pumpkins with her polka-dot motif, which appeared in her drawings, paintings, and as well as the famed installation Mirror Room (Pumpkin), exhibited at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in 1991. This immersive installation was then subsequently brought to the Japanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993 – a momentous milestone that was marked by Kusama’s signature pumpkins, which truly cemented the artist’s status as an international icon. At this installation, Kusama dressed in a matching polka-dot ensemble and gave away tiny yellow and black polka-dotted pumpkins to anyone who entered her exhibition – which in turn further popularised and promoted her work to a wider audience.



    Pumpkin, 1994
    Installation view at Benesse Art Site, Naoshima, Japan
    Image: © Anthony Shaw | Dreamstime.com, Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    The most recognizable pumpkin sculpture of today would have to be the massive sculpture on Naoshima Island, sitting at the end of a pier at the Benesse Art Site. First installed in 1994, the Naoshima pumpkin is highly photogenic, attracting art lovers and everyday tourists alike as it sits gracefully against the backdrop of a beautiful blue sky and glistening waterfront, harmoniously situated within the natural landscape. The current Pumpkin was executed in 1995, right at the pinnacle of success for the artist.



    Pumpkin, 2008
    Harbour Arts Sculpture Park, Hong Kong, 2018
    Image: Bob Henry / Alamy Stock Photo, Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    The Naoshima pumpkin was only the first of many outdoor sculptures that Kusama continued to display across various international locations. By the 2000s, Kusama’s pumpkins had become a central theme and emblem of the artist’s epochal and multifaceted oeuvre, appearing again and again often in larger than life sculptural forms and installed in iconic sites around the world, including the Place Vendôme, Paris; and even Hong Kong’s own Harbour Arts Sculpture Park, in 2018.


    “I love pumpkins because of their humorous form, warm feeling, and human-like quality and form. My desire to create works of pumpkins still continues. I have enthusiasm, as if I were still a child.”
    — Yayoi Kusama


    Functioning as both an allegory and a form of self-portraiture, Kusama’s pumpkins are an embodiment of optimism, serenity, and joy, and are celebrated as one of the most loved and instantly recognizable icons in contemporary art today. Each of these pumpkins stand as a symbol of triumph for Kusama’s status as an international sensation, whilst also sending out a message of hope, peace and love to all corners of the world.


    Installation view of pumpkin sculptures at the M+ Museum, Hong Kong, 2022-2023
    Image: © Vycchan | Dreamstime.com, Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    Collector’s Digest


    • One of the most prominent and prolific artists working today, Yayoi Kusama’s practice blends painting, installation, sculpture, and performance to powerful effect. Arguably her most iconic motif, the pumpkin has appeared in various different formats in Kusama’s career, including paintings, colossal outdoor sculptures and domestic-scaled ceramics, and her celebrated mirrored environments.

    • Invited to be the first woman artist to represent the Japanese Pavilion in the 1993 La Biennale di Venezia, Kusama chose to centralise the pumpkin, constructing a mirrored room in an immersive installation of black and yellow polka dots. An exhibition of a similar installation, The Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens, had just closed at the Art Gallery of South Australia on 13 March, 2023.

    • Her ongoing exhibitions include One with Eternity at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., which showcases the museum's permanent collection of the artist, including two of her infinity mirror rooms and their own pumpkin sculpture from 2016. Tate Modern in London had also extended their exhibition of Kusama’s infinity mirror room until 2 April, 2023.

    • Kusama’s largest retrospective in Asia, Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, is currently on view at the M+ Museum in Hong Kong until 14 May 2023. The exhibition features 3 new works, and over 200 works across various international collections, the M+ collection as well as the artist’s own collection. Phillips is delighted to offer this fresh-to-market work by Kusama alongside Kusama’s exciting retrospective at the M+ Museum, having also achieved the world auction record for the artist most recently in May 2022 in New York with Untitled (Nets) at US$10,496,000.



     Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, is currently on view at the M+ Museum in Hong Kong



    i Yayoi Kusama, quoted in Yayoi Kusama and Ralph McCarthy, Infinity Net, London, 2011, p. 75

    ii Georgia O’Keeffe, quoted in Elizabeth H. Turner, Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. vi.

    iii Yayoi Kusama, quoted in Rosanna Greenstreet, ‘Yayoi Kusama: “A letter from Georgia O’Keeffe gave me the courage to leave home”’, The Guardian, 21 May 2016, online

    iv Paul Cézanne, quoted in artist’s page, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, online

    v Yayoi Kusama, quoted in Yayoi Kusama and Ralph McCarthy, Infinity Net, London, 2011, p. 75

    • Provenance

      Gallery Kasahara, Osaka
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000

    • Artist Biography

      Yayoi Kusama


      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 nonagenarian who still lives in Tokyo and steadfastly paints in her 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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signed, titled and dated 'Yayoi Kusama 1995 "Pumpkin" [in Japanese]' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
112.3 x 145.8 cm. (44 1/4 x 57 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1995, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$40,000,000 - 50,000,000 

Sold for HK$56,110,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023