Yayoi Kusama - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, May 31, 2024 | Phillips
  • “This was my epic, summing up all I was. And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power.”
    — Yayoi Kusama


    Yayoi Kusama’s iconic Net paintings have continually captivated audiences with their breathtaking aesthetics, intriguing psychological depths, and profound philosophical undertones. Beneath their stunning surfaces lies the boundless life energy that Kusama channels to thrive through her near century-long journey across hope and darkness, love and pain. The present lot, INFINITY NETS (ZGHEB) from 2007, envelops viewers within a sea of turbulent grey misty swirls, serving as a remarkable testament to Kusama’s skillful manipulation of touch, rhythm, and depth, infusing her art with renewed vitality.



    Kusama’s Life-long Mark-Making


    Kusama’s art is one deeply preoccupied with the building of her personal marks, achieved through her repetitive and nearly obsessional engagement with singular motifs, which usually begins with tiny painterly or sculptural units and moves on to take over the full body of the artistic medium. The net, which evokes notions of infinity, interconnectedness, and dissolution of self, is the earliest pattern that Kusama has been engaged with since 1958. The practice started as Kusama’s struggle with her mental illness, especially hallucinations that violently threatened her psychological entity: 'They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the center of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me.'i Kusama’s earliest corpus of net paintings, for example, Untitled  from 1959 (which achieved a remarkable record-breaking price of US$10.5 million at Phillips's New York auction in 2022), features tiny looping strokes in creamy white color, which gradually penetrate and overwhelm the monumental presence of a large dark canvas. Caught between a clinically clean monochrome surface and a turbulent plane interrupted by flicks of strokes, the painting is imbued with Kusama’s intense inner struggle and urgency.



    Yayoi Kusama, Untitled, 1959
    Sold by Phillips New York, 18 May 2022
    Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    Kusama’s impulse to imprint personal marks in her art was also informed by various factors within her life trajectory. Belonging to Japan’s first generation of trained women artists after the country’s 1945 educational reform, Kusama had to confront and navigate gender prejudice within the male-dominated art scene. She was often downplayed as a jōryū (womanly) artist, emphasising her feminine identity and categorising her work as separate from the mainstream art discourse. Furthermore, during her brief stay in Seattle in 1957, Kusama was caught in an Orientalist curiosity from the Western world, labeled as a 'Japanese ‘Doll’' and reduced to a stereotypical image of a silent figure posing in a traditional kimono for local media.ii These experiences likely fuelled her drive to establish her own artistic identity and challenge the preconceptions and limitations imposed upon her. Kusama’s relocation to New York in 1958 marked a significant turn in her career. The art scene in late 1950s New York was characterized by the rise of avant-garde movements that sought to question and reinvent traditional artistic paradigms. It was a time of artistic experimentation and rebellion, providing a fertile ground for Kusama's artistic vision to flourish. In this new context, Kusama’s net paintings eventually became a part of a broader dialogue that made up the pivotal turn in the history of painting, together with other contemporary artists and movements, including Pop Art, Minimalism, and Abstract Expressionism.




    “I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. As I repeated this process over and over again, the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me, clinging to my arms and legs and clothes and filling the entire room.”
    — Yayoi Kusama


    Painting Infinitely


    Kusama’s psychological struggle is substantiated by an intense investment in physical labor. Beneath the mesmerising beauty of Kusama’s net paintings lies a bodily commitment to the laborious painting process. With each net painting she creates, Kusama dedicates hours of concentration, repetitively drawing the looping marks on the canvas, until it occupies and even goes beyond the monumental meters-long canvas. As she executes the small circular strokes, the entire process is imbued with restless and almost mechanical energy.


    In the case of the present lot, there is even greater dedication on display as Kusama expands beyond her earlier monochromatic approach to incorporate more subtle tonal gradations and spatial senses. The enriched color palette adds layers of expressive potential. Each stroke is meticulously applied, one after another, resulting in a careful build-up of the swirls, their directions and fluctuations. This simultaneous demonstration of extreme control and the surrendering of bodily autonomy creates an internal tension that evokes contemplation and reflection in viewers. The interplay between meticulous precision and the inherent organic nature of the artistic process invites viewers to engage in a deeper level of introspection and interpretation.




    Expanding Universe


     “How deep was the mystery? Did infinite infinities exist beyond our universe?”
    — Yayoi Kusama

    The expansion of Yayoi Kusama’s artistic universe transcends far beyond the boundaries of the painterly surface. Throughout the decades, her obsessive engagement with net paintings has evolved into a practice of world-making, extended to a wide range of formal elements such as polka dots and mirror balls, taking more diverse forms such as prints, sculptures, installations, and so forth. These elements penetrate both the natural and artificial, as well as the internal and external realms of her life. Over nearly half a century, they have built up together an otherworldly Kusama universe, manifesting meta-reflections of her entire lived experience.



    The present lot is among a more contemporary corpus that propels the ceaseless expansion of the Kusama universe to new heights. In these recent developments, she fearlessly transcends earthly confines, embracing the vast expanse of the celestial realm. One of these pieces, Nets in the Night (TPXZZOT), featured in Phillips’s latest Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale, 14 May, New York, presents a profound darkness punctuated by glistening touches of white, reminiscent of distant constellations in the cosmos.  When viewed alongside, the swirling and misty nets depicted in INFINITY NETS (ZGHEB) take on an ethereal quality, as if filling the void of the universe with their vibrant energy. The net motif, in this context, becomes the very conduit through which Kusama constructs her own 'theory of everything' to embrace the vastness and interconnectedness of existence.



    Yayoi Kusama, Nets in the Night (TPXZZOT), 2007
    Sold by Phillips New York, 14 May 2024 for $1,875,000
    Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    Collector’s Digest


    Born in 1929, in Japan, Yayoi Kusama is among the most internationally acclaimed Japanese artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, best known for her nearly obsessional use of motifs, such as nets and polka dots, to develop large-scale immersive paintings, sculptures, and installations.


    Kusama’s works have been collected and exhibited in renowned institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Tate Modern in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the National Gallery of Modern Art in Tokyo, among others. In 1993, Kusama was selected to represent Japan’s participation at the 45th Venice Biennale. More recently, from 2022 to 2023, M+, Hong Kong, presented Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, marking the largest retrospective of the artist in Asia outside Japan.


    Net paintings are among Kusama’s most sought-after series in the art market. In May 2022, at Phillips’s New York Evening sale, Untitled from1959 achieved a remarkable record-breaking price of US$10.5 million, establishing the highest price ever paid for a work by a female artist.





    Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London, 2011, n.p.

    ii Louis R. Guzzo, “Japanese ‘Doll’ Speaks Through Her Painting,” in Seattle Times, December 8, 1957, quoted in Nakajima Izumi 中嶋泉, Anti-Action: Nihon sengō ega to josei gakaアンチ・アクション : 日本戦後絵画と女性画家 [Anti-Action: Postwar Japanese Painting and Women Artists], Tokyo, 2019, p.180.

    • Provenance

      Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Sydney, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Yayoi Kusama, 26 April - 19 May 2007

    • 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.

      View More Works




signed, titled and dated 'Yayoi Kusama 2007 "INFINITY-NETS ZGHEB"' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
194 x 194 cm. (76 3/8 x 76 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2007, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000 

Sold for HK$25,860,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2027

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 May 2024