Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Sunday, June 6, 2021 | Phillips

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  •  “Pumpkins are loveable, and their wonderfully wild and humorous atmosphere never ceases to capture the hearts of people. I adore pumpkinsAs my spiritual home since childhood, and with their infinite spirituality they contribute to the peace of mankind across the worldthey make me feel at peace. Pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind. Yayoi Kusama


    The pumpkin is perhaps Yayoi Kusama’s most iconic motif, deployed by the Japanese artist both as an allegory and as an instinctive form of self-portraiture for over seven decades across paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations.


    Drawn to pumpkins for their “charming and winsome form, their generous unpretentiousness and solid spiritual base”, Kusama’s love of pumpkins can be traced back to her early childhood in Matsumoto, Japan. Born in 1929 into a family of farm merchants who owned a seed farm and plant nursery, a storehouse of pumpkins owned by her family provided a crucial lifeline to their village amid national food shortages during World War II. Kusama began drawing pictures of pumpkins as an elementary school student, around the same time as the onset of vivid hallucinations that would come to define her artistic career. "Flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots" were accompanied by talking flowers, and fabric patterns that came to life, multiplying and threatening to engulf and expunge her. [1]


    Whilst these phantasmagorical polka dots and flowers frightened the young Kusama, she was comforted by her encounter with pumpkins: “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,” Kusama recalled her autobiography. “And there it was: a pumpkin the size of a man's head . . . It immediately began speaking to me in a most animated manner.” [2]


    As a student at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in the late 1940s Kusama diligently painted pumpkins, executing her earliest ones in the nihonga style, a rigorous formal painting technique originating from the Meiji period. Frustrated with the rigidity of this traditional Japanese style, Kusama became interested in the European and American avant-garde, and embarked upon a 14-year sojourn in New York. Returning to Japan in the 1970s, in ill health and heartbroken after the death of her partner, Kusama withdrew to a specialist medical facility. Pumpkins resurfaced in Kusama’s work at this time, and ten years later they were combined with repetitive dots, uniting two central motifs in Kusama's art dating from her childhood. Pumpkins - an image that provided her with reassurance and happiness - became ‘self-obliterated’ through a mesmerising maze of dots. Together they represented an intimate self-portrait: Kusama’s escape from her troubles, even from her own mind and its habitual hallucinatory and depressive spells.


    Pumpkin (1990) was painted by Kusama and sold through the Fuji Television Gallery, a space credited with popularising contemporary art in Japan and the very first gallery to exhibit Kusama’s paintings and sculptures in her homeland. It coincided with a very public resurgence for the artist: her first New York retrospective in 1989 at the Centre for International Contemporary Arts, which signified a major revival of American and European interest in Kusama’s work, and becoming the first Japanese artist to grace the cover of Art in America that very same year. Parallelling this revival was a reevaluation of her work in Japan: just a year after Pumpkin (1990) Kusama created Mirror Room (Pumpkin) for a landmark exhibition at the Fuji Television Gallery, which went on to be exhibited at the 1993 Venice Biennale. She was the first Japanese artist in the history of the Biennale to be granted a solo exhibition (traditionally Japanese artists would show in groups of two or three), and the first Japanese woman ever to show at the prestigious event. Creating and performing the work, Kusama covered the walls, floor, and ceiling of a room in a coat of yellow paint adorned with black polka dots. A mirrored cube filled with paper-maché pumpkins sat in the centre of the space. Through a peephole, visitors could gaze into this infinite, sprawling pumpkin patch and directly at its creator, an intimate view into the unique mindscape of an artistic legend.


    As  the scholar and curator Alexandra Munroe explained, Kusama’s art allows her “not only to surrender to madness but also to triumph over it; trauma must be substantially transformed before it can communicate to others as beauty and meaning”. [3]


    [1] Priscilla Frank, Japanese Artist Yayoi Kusama Is About To Make 2017 Infinitely Better’, HuffPost, 9 February 2017, online

    [2] Yayoi Kusama quoted in Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net, Yayoi Kusama, London, 2016, p. 75

    [3] Alexandra Munroe, ‘Between Heaven and Earth: The Literary Art of Yayoi Kusama’, in Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958-1968, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1998, p. 81







    • Provenance

      Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo
      Private Collection, Japan
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • 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 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.

      View More Works

Property from a Distinguished Asian Private Collection



signed, titled and dated 'YAYOI KUSAMA 1990 "Pumpkin [in Kanji]"' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
53 x 45.5 cm. (20 7/8 x 17 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1990, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,800,000 - 6,800,000 

Sold for HK$12,592,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 7 June 2021