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

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  • As one of the key areas of exploration within the artist’s decades-long career, ‘soft sculptures’ have formed an essential aspect of Yayoi Kusama's practice since 1962 onwards, when the artist was residing in New York City following her move from Japan in 1958. For her initial experimentations with this series, Kusama wrapped furniture and everyday objects with pillowy, bulging, hand-sewn phallic forms which served as a method of aversion therapy for the artist’s fear of sex and the male body, dating back to the affairs of her father. As Kusama has explained, ‘I began making penises in order to heal my feelings of disgust towards sex. Reproducing the objects, again and again, was my way of conquering the fear’[i].


    Arriving in New York in 1958, she associated herself with seminal artists and critics, with the likes of Donald Judd, Joseph Cornell, Yves Klein and Lucio Fontana. She then exhibited her early soft sculptures in a group show at the New York vanguard Green Gallery in 1962, alongside works by Robert Morris, Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg – the latter of whom Kusama argues sourced direct inspiration from her work for the soft sculptures he created shortly after, which garnered Oldenburg instant fame. Critics at the time were shocked by the explicit expression of Kusama’s soft sculptures. Not knowing how to acknowledge this, they instead described them with anodyne phrases such as ‘the semantics of mono-surfacing.’ As such, whilst Kusama’s soft sculptures are a reflection of the artist’s own psychological thinking, they can also be considered as foreshadowing the feminist movement that emerged in the mid-1960s in the United States and thus are arguably more revolutionary in form than their painterly counterparts in Kusama’s oeuvre.


    Yayoi Kusama in her breakthrough Infinity Mirror Room Phalli’s Field at the Castellane Gallery in New York in 1965
    © Yayoi Kusama

    Soft phallic shapes in striped and polka-dotted honey yellow and brown surge out from the basin of a bath bowl in Untitled, as Kusama transforms the household item as a personification of familial interiors into a humorously sexualised artwork. In doing so considered, it seems as if she hijacks the bath bowl’s functional purpose as well as its traditional links with women’s labour, thereby liberating it from its social and moral connotations. Executed in 1965, Untitled was created during a breakthrough year for Kusama as she produced and exhibited her first mirrored installation with Infinity Mirror Room: Phalli’s Field, which was also composed of hundreds of anthropomorphic soft sculptures that multiplied to infinity in the reflections created by mirrored, square room. Untitled was also previously in the personal collection of artist Lucio Fontana, who had supported her one year after in showcasing Narcissus Garden (1966), staging an infinite reflective field of 1,500 mass-produced plastic silver globes on the lawn outside the Italian Pavilion, at the same time as the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966.

    As one of the most important and influential Asian artists in the history of contemporary art, recognition for Kusama’s work is at an all-time high, evidenced by her top result at auction being recently achieved in May 2022 by Phillips in New York with the sale of Untitled (Nets) (1959), which sold for a remarkable 10,496,000 USD. 


    In addition to the cultural icon’s recent commercial collaboration with Louis Vuitton, which took over both the physical world and digital spaces, Kusama remains the central subject of numerous major exhibitions internationally, including her ongoing retrospective at M+ in Hong Kong (closing on 14 May 2023), where a variety of soft sculpture pieces are on show. 


    [i] Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London, 2015

    • Condition Report

    • Description

      View our Conditions of Sale.

    • Provenance

      Collection of Lucio Fontana
      Private Collection, New York
      Private Collection
      Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 10 July 2020, lot 579
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Lura Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, p. 50 (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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signed and dated 'KUSAMA 1965' on the underside
mixed media with fabric
17 x 45.5 x 35.5 cm. (6 3/4 x 17 7/8 x 13 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1965, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,600,000 - 2,600,000 

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 31 March 2023