Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “[I]f I were not Kusama, I would say she is a good artist. I'd think she is outstanding.”
    — Yayoi Kusama

    Part of a series of artworks on display at Yayoi Kusama’s The Driving Image Show, which was first presented at Castellane Gallery in New York in 1964, Untitled consists of a female mannequin that seems to have been caught in the act of shying away from an invisible object or subject, with the head turned to her left and the rest of the body curved to her right. The sculpture is painted in blue, and the entire surface of her naked figure is covered in Kusama’s signature infinity nets pattern – a shade of deep cobalt blue over an underlying layer of yellow. On top of her head is a black wig, which mimics the beauty trends of the 1960s.


    Among the objects that composed the installation, Kusama included several kitchen furniture pieces and utensils, a ladder, shoes, vases, books and flowers, some of which were dispersed throughout the years. The exhibition was so successful that it became itinerant, and it was later shown – with variations – at Galleria d’arte del Naviglio, Milan, between January and February 1966, and at Galerie M.E. Thelen in Essen, Germany, in April of the same year.



    Driving Image Show poster for the 1966 Milan exhibition.


    The fact that some of the sculptures which were exhibited at The Driving Image Show are now lost makes this 174 cm tall Untitled an incredibly rare, exceptional and historically relevant artwork. This blue, yellow-dotted mannequin survived several decades to testify to Kusama’s outstanding artistic achievements during her American period. ‘The first thing I did in New York’, declared Kusama in a recent interview, discussing her arrival in New York in 1958, ‘was to climb up the Empire State Building and survey the city. I aspired to grab everything that went on in the city and become a star’. i The New York years were certainly essential to her career, and played a fundamental role in helping Kusama establish her name among the most globally acclaimed artists.


    The Driving Image Show was revolutionary for its time, and had a radical impact on current and future generations of artists, art amateurs and gallery goers. Unlike nowadays, where they are a common and established practice in the art world, in the 1960s installations were still a very unusual form of exhibition. One of the most original aspects of The Driving Image Show (1964) was the fact that the entire gallery space was integrated within the installation: Kusama’s dotted pattern was painted not only on the mannequins, but also on household objects and furniture. The floor was covered in a bed of dry macaroni, so that anyone who would step on it would hear crackling sounds, and – instead of remaining a passive observer – would interactively participate in an immersive art experience.


    “I am an obsessional artist. People may call me otherwise, but I simply let them do as they please. I consider myself a heretic of the art world. I think only of myself when I make my artwork. Affected by the obsession that has been lodged in my body, I created pieces in quick succession for my new ‘-isms’.”
    — Yayoi Kusama


    In the course of her New York years, Kusama became famous for provoking the puritan American society with her irreverent Body Festivals or Happenings, during which she painted the bodies of naked men and women with her signature polka dots, while the participants were singing, dancing and taking part in orgies. These public celebrations of art and freedom were often interrupted by police interventions. Untitled is an evolution of these staged demonstrations; at first,she started to incorporate mannequins as sculptural works within her installations, then she gradually migrated this artistic expression onto living human bodies and animals. In these instances, the naked body is not alive and sexually active, but becomes an anonymous and robotic symbol of the modern industrial society. 


    Kusama’s Untitled can be fruitfully compared to the mannequin figures of the Italian Metaphysical Painting Movement led by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, whose school and principles were established in 1917. In Metaphysical paintings, the human figure is often absent, or, when present, it is depicted on a small scale or as a shadow. Mostly replaced by statues or mannequins which evoke the shape of a female or male body, humans do not seem to be crucial to the Metaphysical masters, who, through their work, intended to transmit the sense of isolation and alienation in which World War I left the European society.


    In particular, Untitled can remind viewers of Carrà’s painting The Enchanted Chamber (1917), in which a headless female mannequin is depicted near a tower of geometric objects, on top of which is a black wig. Representing a sort of mysterious and modern idol, Kusama’s and Carrà’s mannequins hint at the risks of dehumanisation that are hidden behind mass-production and globalisation.



    Carlo Carrà, The Enchanted Chamber, 1917, Brera Pinoteca.
    Artwork: © 2023 Carlo Carrà / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome 



    Collector’s Digest


    • Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, to a family of merchants who owned a plant nursery. She was trained in Nihonga painting at the Kyoto City University of Arts. Since the age of ten, she started to experience hallucinations, to which she soon responded by making art as a form of self-therapy.
    • After moving to the United States in 1958, she became a leading member of the New York avant-garde art scene. She returned to Japan in the 1970s, choosing to reside in a mental health facility and work in a studio during the daytime.
    • An extremely eclectic artist, her cultural production has explored several forms of expression, from sculpture, painting, and installation, to fashion, poetry, and performance.
    • A retrospective of the artist’s work was on view at Gropius Bau, Berlin, in 2021, and at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in 2022. The M+ Museum in Hong Kong is currently hosting Yayoi Kusama: From 1945 to Now, an exhibition that explores the evolution of the artist’s work over the past seven decades.



     i Yayoi Kusama, interviewed by Akira Tatehata, quoted in ‘‘It Feels Good to Be an Outsider’: Yayoi Kusama on Avoiding Labels, Organising Orgies, and Battling Hardships’, The Phaidon Folio – Artspace, 8 May 2017, online.


    • Condition Report

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Galleria d'Arte del Naviglio, Milan
      Internationale Galerij Orez, The Hague
      Private Collection, Milan
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Christie's, New York, 9 November 2005, lot 330
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Milan, Galerie M.E. Thelen, Driving Image Show, 29 January - 27 May 1966
      London, Serpentine Gallery, Yayoi Kusama, 26 January - 19 March 2000
      Kunstverein Braunschweig, Yayoi Kusama, 29 November 2003 - 8 February 2004
      Warsaw, Zacheta National Gallery of Art, Yayoi Kusama, 6 April - 16 May 2004

    • Literature

      Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective. A Bouquet of Love I Saw in the Universe, exh. cat., Gropius Bau, Berlin; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2021 - 2022, p. 19 (illustrated)
      Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, Museum of Modern Art; Minneapolis, The Walker Art Center and Tokyo, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998 - 1999, index page (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      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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Untitled (Mannequin from The Driving Image Show)

signed and dated 'KUSAMA 1966' on the top
acrylic on polyester mannequin, synthetic wig and base
174 x 49.5 x 33 cm. (68 1/2 x 19 1/2 x 12 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1966, this work will be accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,500,000 - 2,300,000 

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023