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

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  •  Yayoi Kusama’s almost obsessive fascination with pumpkins, to which she has dedicated a large portion of her extremely prolific artistic production, lies in a visceral, sensorial feeling: 'I love pumpkins,' the artist explained, 'because of their humorous form, warm feeling, and a human-like quality and form. My desire to create works of pumpkins still continues. I have enthusiasm as if I were still a child.'i


    The present bicoloured red and black piece, painted in 1991, represents a short, plump and chubby pumpkin, whose ribs are covered in Kusama’s signature polka-dots. The peduncle stands on top of the pumpkin’s ribs, darker than the rest of the fruit, thick and straight. The background consists of a repetitive pattern of angular red lines whose intersection forms an irregular and chaotic reticle of triangles, a unique and hypnotic version of Kusama’s Infinity Nets iconic design.


    But where does Kusama’s pumpkin obsession come from? During childhood, the Japanese artist started to experience vivid hallucinations: these visions would take the form of flowers, polka dots, mushrooms, pumpkins and other vegetables and fruits. While Kusama was frightened by the floral figures and dots fabricated by her mental projections, she rather found solace and reassurance in pumpkins, which have later become one of her favourite motifs, presented in infinite declinations – sculptures, paintings, infinity rooms, patterns created in collaboration with fashion designers – in the course of her long career.


    Yayoi Kusama, Nihonga-style painting with onions, 1948
    Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA

    Kusama began to sketch pumpkins in the wake of her first hallucinatory episode, and at the age of 17 she made her public pumpkin debut with Kabocha, a Nihonga-style painting (made in accordance with Japanese artistic conventions, tools, materials and style), which she presented at a travelling exhibition in the towns of Nagano and Matsumoto, Japan. After these inceptive artistic attempts, the pumpkin motif disappeared from her oeuvre for decades, to then resurge in the 1970s and 1980s, following a period in which the artist focused on performance art. Her interest in pumpkins grew in the 1990s, when the motif was included in the artist’s interactive installations known as Infinity Mirror Rooms.


    Pumpkins, with their at times surreal shapes and endless variety of chromatic nuances, are a popular theme among artists, and have inspired innumerable representations throughout art history. In Madame Tarkhoff, Her Daughter, Pumpkin and Two Cats, the Russian Impressionist painter Nicolas Tarkhoff (1871-1930) one of the pioneers of Fauvism, celebrates this botanical element by depicting two giant, bright-orange pumpkins and placing them at the centre of the scene, surrounded by flowers, two human figures and two cats. Tarkhoff shares with Kusama a fascination for this eclectic fruit, its textures and shapes, and the two works are characterized by a similar visual vibrancy and their generous display of bright and strikingly bold colours.


    Nicolas Tarkhoff, Madame Tarkhoff, Her Daughter, Pumpkin and Two Cats

    Yayoi Kusama, one of the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists, was born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, and trained at the Kyoto City University of Arts. 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 nearby the clinic. 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 which explores the evolution of the artist’s work over the past seven decades.



    i Yayoi Kusama, quoted in “Why Does Yayoi Kusama Love Pumpkins?”, Phaidon, online.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Seoul Auction, Seoul, 23 November 2021, lot 45
      Acquired at the above sale 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.

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signed, titled and dated 'YAYOI KUSAMA 1991 "Pumpkin" [in Kanji]' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
15.8 x 22.7 cm. (6 1/4 x 8 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1991, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,500,000 - 5,500,000 

Sold for HK$4,445,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 March 2023