Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Saturday, November 23, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection
    Sotheby's S|2 Gallery, Hong Kong
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2012

  • Exhibited

    Tokyo, Fuji Television Gallery, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Explosion, 6-28 June 1986, n.p. (illustrated)
    Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art; Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art, Yayoi Kusama: Eternity Modernity; then traveled as Eight Places for Burning Soul, Hiroshima City, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art; then traveled as Yayoi Kusama: Sailing the Sea of Infinity, Kumamoto, Contemporary Art Museum; then traveled as Yayoi Kusama: The Place for My Soul, Matsumoto, Matsumoto City Museum of Art, 26 October 2004 - 10 October 2005, no. 112, p. 181 (illustrated)
    Hong Kong, Sotheby's S|2 Gallery, Yayoi Kusama: Hong Kong Blooms in My Mind, 19-31 May 2012, pl. 16, pp. 46-47

  • Literature

    Jiritsu Shobo, Between Heaven and Earth, Tokyo, 1988 (illustrated, book cover)
    Thomas Frick, YAYOI KUSAMA: NEW YORK/TOKYO - LOVE FOREVER: YAYOI KUSAMA, 1958-1968, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 77 (illustrated on a book cover)
    Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, Yayoi Kusama: Eternity-Modernity, Tokyo, 2005, p.181 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The sculptural Accumulations created by Kusama find their roots in the very early years of her creative career, whilst she was living in New York. To understand them means taking a deep dive into the artist's psyche and neuroses, for they stand at the crossroads between the artist’s desire for self-obliteration and self-glorification. They represent the conversion of her Infinity Net paintings into three-dimensional sculptures in which she can pose, merge, or simply disappear. The conscious willingness to become part of a work, or to be a work herself, is an extrapolation of the performances which were a central component of her artistic practice at the time.

    It was in September 1961 that Yayoi Kusama, with help from Donald Judd, her neighbor and close friend, began sewing and stuffing hundreds of small canvas sacks full of cotton. At the time, she had been in New York for three years and had just moved to a loft in East 19th street. She finished her first Accumulations in 1963. These were pieces of furniture, usually cast-offs scavenged from the streets, that she covered with protuberances of stuffed cloth. Part of the fascination they exercise upon the viewer derives from an overabundant, repetitive profusion that also characterised the Infinity Net paintings. The immersive environment of the Accumulations sculptures provided a necessary remedy to soothe her anxieties. Often posing with her creations in photographs, Kusama dressed to blend in with her works, simulating a merging with the obsessive and repetitive matrix of her art.

    Returning permanently to Japan in 1973 and taking up residence in a private mental hospital where she has lived ever since, depressed and profoundly affected by the death of Joseph Cornell, Kusama revisited many of the themes she had been developing in New York. A lot of the Accumulations from the early 1980s are covered in a silver coat of paint as if they had been found frozen in a post-apocalyptic world. Kusama slathered silver paint over entire installations of phallus-festooned furniture and clothing as well as crammed segmented boxes. Leaving no uncertainty as to the rationale behind this, her works from this period possess eerily morbid titles, such as Walking on the Sea of Death (1981), Ceremony for Suicide and Desire for Death in the World of Silver. However, at the exact same time, in 1981, she started working on sets of colourful fabric-stuffed furniture showing tables and chairs arranged in a dining room setting, or sofa and armchairs fit for a psychedelic living room. Although the fabrics used in these sets comprise a vivid array of blues, reds and greens, the title of Farewell Supper (held in the collection of the Chiba City Museum of Art, Japan) leaves no doubt that Kusama is still deeply affected by dark thoughts. Not to be overlooked is the sexual component of these sculptures, evident in the phallic protuberances which have engulfed the piece of furniture and the box serving as a host. These Accumulations acted as a form of catharsis for the artist, who described them as ‘psycho-somatic work’ undertaken to conquer her fear of the phallus. In her 2002 autobiography Infinity Net she recalls: “I began making penises in order to heal my feeling of disgust towards sex… It was a kind of self-therapy. I was terrified of sex and of the phallus.” (quoted by Chris Kraus, ‘Accumulations’, Kusama, New York, 2012, p. 108).

    Towards the middle of the decade however, Kusama’s spirits had lifted and, emerging from this dark period, she continued her explorations using the sculptural Accumulations. In Six Guests, executed in 1986, Kusama’s sculptures are much more poetic than psychologically sinister. Here phallic shapes still blanket the objects, but no longer pose a menace. Surrounded by bowls, a jug, flowers and a pineapple, Kusama’s creations are brought into the safe, kitsch-infused realm of quotidian femininity. With Six Guests Kusama defiantly seizes control of her discourse, and the phallus is no longer an object of fear that dominates the narrative of the work, but is instead wholly contained and controlled by the feminine. The choice of scarlet red pigment, which dots the shapes and stains their fibrous cushioning, allude to female menstruation and loss of virginity. Kusama also presents the image of a matriarchal family dinner, with six guests gathered around a flower-laden table. A direct allusion to her own childhood, Kusama parents owned a seed farm and flowers became a constant source of inspiration throughout her career. But they also brought back memories of the abuse suffered at the hands of her own mother as a child and teenager. Exactly two years before the creation of Six Guests, Kusama’s mother Shigeru had passed away and the artist said of this tragic event: “Born with hair-trigger temper, my mother also had a tendency to hysteria that was only exacerbated by my father’s flamboyant womanizing. Sometimes when she found me painting she would overturn the desk or rip up the pictures and throw them away. Inwardly I was always at war with her.” (the artist quoted in Kusama, Rizzoli, New York, 2012, p. 297). But it is precisely with this work that Kusama regains control of her own destiny, personality and femininity - exactly in the same way Niki de Saint-Phalle shot pouches of pigment attached to plaster reliefs (the Tirs), an act of pure violence usually associated with men which proved the artist to be one of the most important feminist artists in France in the 1960s.

    Extremely personal, cathartic and feminist, Six Guests is an important work for understanding the psyche at work behind the creation of the most fascinating body of works of the 20th century. “Such energy! (…) I felt once again overwhelmed as the polka-dotted forms with their vivid colours and the phallus-shaped objects spread and proliferated endlessly before me. This exhibition is indeed a monument to the dazzling victory of one lone woman who has battled mental illness all her life and managed to transform that bitter struggle into magnificent art.” Akira Asada, The Victory of Yayoi Kusama, Nami, July 1999.

  • 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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Property from a Distinguished Asian Collection


Six Guests

signed, titled and dated 'Yayoi Kusama [in Kanji and English] "SIX GUESTS [in Kanji and English] 1986' on the underside of the table; further signed and titled '"SIX GUESTS [in Kanji and English]" Yayoi Kusama [in Kanji and English]' on the underside of six chairs
wood, canvas, spray paint, fibre and mixed media
Table: 113 x 185 x 130 cm. (44 1/2 x 72 7/8 x 51 1/8 in.)
Chair: 83 x 65 x 55 cm. (32 5/8 x 25 5/8 x 21 5/8 in.)

Executed in 1986, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's company.

HK$7,000,000 - 9,000,000 

Contact Specialist
Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 24 November 2019