Yayoi Kusama - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Saturday, June 1, 2024 | Phillips
  • “Repetition of the same patterns, an action which stems from my disease, is applied in my writing just as it is in my artwork. Dreams and hallucinations are actually occurring. This obsessional image is what I have transformed my disease into, and is therefore, to me, irreplaceable.”
    — Yayoi Kusama

    An early entry in Yayoi Kusama’s now over-five-hundred-strong series of curved, polka-dotted pumpkins rendered in acrylic, this 1982 work shows her opposing and harmonising three of the most vivid, personally resonant, and publicly recognisable motifs of her life in an especially striking manner. It lacks the warm yellow tones familiar to many of the other entries, instead rendering the vegetable in a violent shade of red against white, contrasting with both the sharp angles of the infinity net surrounding it and the ominous black space behind both. Against this, it is made up of rounder and softer shapes, and forms a reassuringly symmetrical shape, unbroken by the net’s threatening edges. Far from mass-produced, the composition and colour scheme give the painting a startlingly tense and vibrant effect, only enhanced by closer inspection.

    Each of the painting’s components has a deep-rooted significance for the artist. The child of agricultural suppliers in rural Japan, her family’s produce became more precious with the food shortages of WWII, and hallucinations from an early age gave them even greater significance: ‘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…and there it was: a pumpkin the size of a man’s head… It immediately began speaking to me in a most animated manner’.i  This was just one of many visions she experienced at the time, often marked by repetition and cosmic threat: one featured a red tablecloth pattern spreading to her whole room and body, by which she ‘would self-obliterate; be buried in the infinitude of endless time and the absoluteness of space’ii



     Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    Throughout Kusama’s subsequent career, patterns of shapes have been a hallmark of her art, spreading to unite her net paintings, mirror rooms, sculptures, performance pieces, sculptures, and two-dimensional works in one reassuringly structured whole. In her flight from Japan to greater opportunities in New York as a young adult, through to her return home and eventual self-commitment to a psychiatric hospital, predictable repetition has been a guard for her against horrendous, unpredictable anxiety, enhanced by humorous, irreverent colours and shapes. Her favourite vehicle for this is the polka dot, which are both a cartoonish disruptor and a symbol of our place in the universe: ‘Our earth is only one polka-dot among a million stars in the cosmos…When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka-dots we become part of the unity of our environment…and we obliterate ourselves in love’iii

    This universal vision emerged with Kusama’s American career, with the net paintings inspired by the Pacific’s seemingly endless waves throughout her flight, and the polka dots appearing several years later. Pumpkins, however, took longer to manifest again, though she made earlier studies of them in Kyoto and, at points, had to live off scavenged vegetables in New York. It was only in the years after her self-commitment that she rediscovered their ‘humorous form, warm feeling, and a human-like quality’iv  and has been compensating ever since. 

    Besides similar acrylic works and ever-increasing small sculptures, increasing popular and critical success in the years following this work has let her proliferate massive sculptures of them across the globe: when one of the largest, a two-metre-tall yellow-and-black installation in Naoshima, washed away in a typhoon, another swiftly took its place while a new, bigger replacement emerged in Victoria. Kusama’s world-conquering aesthetic ties together grand commissions, radical performances, immersive exhibitions, and more from many other media across her rich life -but every artistic product of it remains incredible, and exquisitely crafted, with this piece being no exception.

    Collector’s Digest


    • Born in 1929 and still producing art of multiple mediums today, Yayoi Kusama has been named ‘the world’s most popular artist’, supervising a rapid output of artworks, parallel exhibitions across multiple continents.
    • Her many acrylic paintings of pumpkins rank among her best-selling works: in March 2023 at Phillips Hong Kong, a similar yellow-and-black piece from 1995 sold for in HK$56,110,000, making it both her highest-earning work there and her seventh best-selling work overall.
    • Besides numerous gallery shows and installations, she has also been honoured with larger retrospective exhibitions across the world, including the recent Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now at M+ in Hong Kong (November 2022 – May 2023) and the upcoming Yayoi Kusama at the National Gallery of Victoria (December 2024 – April 2025).



    i Yayoi Kusama quoted in Infinity Net, Yayoi Kusama, translated by Ralph McCarthy, London, 2011, p. 75.
    ii Kusama, ‘Odyssey of My Struggling Soul’, Geijutsu seikatsu (Art and Life), Tokyo, November 1975, p. 96-113 [quoted in Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, Phaidon Press, p. 119].
    iii Kusama, quoted by Jud Yalkut in ‘The Polka Dot Way of Life: Conservations [sic] with Yayoi Kusama’, The New York Free Press & West Side News, 15 February 1968 [quoted in Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective, ed. Stephanie Rosenthal, Munich, 2021, p. 76].
    iv Yayoi Kusama, quoted in “Why Does Yayoi Kusama Love Pumpkins?”, Phaidon, online.


    • 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 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 1982 "Pumpkin" [in Japanese]' on the stretcher
acrylic on canvas
15.5 x 22 cm. (6 1/8 in. x 8 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1982, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,200,000 - 4,200,000 

Sold for HK$4,699,000

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2014

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 1 June 2024