Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Introduction


    There are innumerable ways to try and comprehend the creative genius that is Yayoi Kusama, whose remarkable practice has fascinated the world for over six decades. In addition to being the first woman to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale (1993), she has been honoured with copious exhibitions hosted by the most prestigious institutions across the globe, drawing in record visitor numbers who queue for hours for the chance to experience her work. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her art and published books and has even ranked among TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people. Her museum presence is immense, with works by the artist now housed in the most prolific public collections worldwide, including at her dedicated museum in Tokyo. As is her established market dominance, with 6 of her top 10 auction results achieved in the past five years. It is without question that she is one of the most important artists working today.




    The present work exhibited at New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Yayoi Kusama: Now, 11 June - 7 August 1998


  • Created in 1998, Repetition is a rare, significant work from Kusama’s oeuvre, boasting a sophisticated combination of key motifs for which she is best known. Stemming from a smaller series whereby Kusama contains her iconic soft sculpture protrusions within wooden boxes, Repetition is one of only three exceptional examples that feature 120 individually crafted and signed components. Indicative of the present work’s historic importance, another 120-piece work, Stamens in the Sun, is now housed in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Toyama, Japan.


    Other smaller works from Kusama’s box series can also be found in the collections of museums including the Niigata City Art Museum and the Matsumoto City Museum of Art.


    Fresh to the secondary market, Repetition was first shown at the at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York the year it was created, before being honoured with presentation at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami in 2003, and the Moore Building in Miami in 2018.


    A Museum Quality Piece 

  • Simultaneously monumental and intimate in its execution, Repetition comprises of 120 boxes, each of which houses biomorphic polka-dotted protrusions that blossom out from their golden-orange and black, bristly nests. The pillowy phallic forms nod to Kusama’s hand-sewn Accumulations initiated in 1962, a playful yet menacing body of works created to ‘heal [her] feeling and disgust towards sex’i. Contrasting these earlier compositions of all-over profusions, however, the familiar repetitive pattern of snake-like tubular shapes no longer connotes anger in Repetition, but rather abundant growth. Packed together in configurations that appear as flowerpots, incubators or cradles, their nestling organic forms further resemble embryos, stamens, or sprouting buds, thereby alluding to the potential for flourishing life, new beginnings, and unknown potential.


    And as our visual perception shifts from a microscopic vision of each cell-like component to a macroscopic view of an expanding universe, this melding of the physical and spiritual engulfs the viewer into a hypnotically meditative experience that stimulates introspection and transcendence.


    Kusama’s Unparalleled Creativity  


    With Kusama’s art and her psyche intimately connected, the argument is posed that the metamorphosis of her work occurs in tandem with moments of her life where she experienced great difficulty, such as only employing mechanical processes after the medication prescribed to treat her neurosis began restricting her mobility. The most notable shifts in Kusama’s practice occurred in the 1960s after she broke away from her disapproving family and, as encouraged by the American artist Georgia O’Keefe, moved to New York in June 1958. Leaving behind her hometown in Nagano, Japan—where she had first experienced her influential hallucinations of haunting patterns that engulf everything around her, including herself—her move to the States indicated a new start and she aspired to ‘grab everything that went on in the city and become a star.’ii


    Arriving in America, Kusama found herself in a male-dominated art scene that was not particularly welcoming to a young, female Japanese artist, and yet, the rate at which she made her mark on the New York avant-garde was remarkable. Absorbing and then challenging the most advanced studio practices of the time, her output became as diverse as it was unpredictable, fuelled by her tireless quest to express the infinite of the universe whilst coming to terms with her own individual reality. As such, when regarding her work in relation to many of the artists she befriended during this time, numerous points of interest come to mind.





    Yayoi Kusama, No. 62.A.A.A., 1962
    Collection of the Blanton Museum of Art, Texas



    The gridded, sculptural format of the present work harkens back to Kusama’s egg-carton paintings of 1962, an example of which is now housed in the permanent collection of the Blanton Museum of Art in Texas. Formed of recycled material Kusama collected in a manner she likens to eminent American artist Louise Nevelson, who was known to scavenge the streets in search of wood, the series marked one of Kusama’s earliest experimentations into three-dimensionality.





    Louise Nevelson, Royal Tide IV, 1959-1960, Collection of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne
    © 2021 Estate of Louise Nevelson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 


    In fact, an interesting dialogue also occurs between Repetition and Nevelson’s monumental stacked wooden boxes holding abstract shapes. But whereas each box of Nevelson’s is characterised by variation, exalting the discarded aspects of bustling city life, Kusama’s artwork mirrors the quiet repetition that went into its making as she harnesses the manmade to quantify the abstract concept of infinity.

  • For her all-over patterning of marks and technique, as exemplified in her Infinity Nets series and in the abstract, duplicated qualities of the present work, Kusama shares the same heroic scale of Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. And yet, the ‘painstaking sameness of her composition[s] was a deliberate attempt to find an antidote to the emotionalism of [the genre]’ iii. At the same time, Kusama’s fascination with serialised infinity across multiplied cubes further aligns her approach to that of Piero Manzoni and On Kawara, both of whom too, experimented with boxes in their quest to represent boundlessness. Differing from her counterparts, however, whilst Kusama’s practice is based in Conceptual art it does not adhere to the severity of its frameworks, instead evoking a more elastic perusal.


    Striking a fine balance between soft and hard, and rigid conformity and loose freedom, the composition of Repetition recalls both the dyed rope and metal cube structures of Eva Hesse, an icon of American art whose studio was in the same building as Kusama’s for years. Dealing with notions of feminism and sexuality and imbued with sensual and psychological allusions, both Hesse and Kusama present a more organic repetition in their work that departs from the industrial aesthetic of Minimalism championed by artists including Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd – the latter of whom was an early admirer of Kusama’s and had acquired pieces by her for his own personal collection. 



    Left: Donald Judd, Untitled, 1985
    © 2021 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Right: Sol LeWitt, Corner Piece No.2, 1976
     © 2021 Sol LeWitt/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    Moreover, the stuffed tendrils that jut out from Repetition towards the viewer are executed in a medium also preferred by Kusama’s contemporary, Claes Oldenburg - with many critics believing his take on soft sculptures was inspired by her innovative eye. But contrasting Oldenburg’s concern of depicting the entire form of each enlarged object, Kusama’s subject is not the object itself, but the act of multiplying it in her duplicated works.




    Claes Oldenburg, Soft Baked Potato, Open and Thrown--Scale B, 1970



    Burrowed within endless curls that resonate with the intricately crocheted wire sculptures of Ruth Asawa, the elongated protrusions appear almost to come alive from amongst unshorn fur. A more contemporary comparison can be made to the knotted, woven pieces by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota, who manifests her physical and emotional experiences into netlike environments exploring the infinite, with ‘there appear[ing] to be no end to [her] line of yarn.’ iv But unlike the delicacy of Asawa’s loops done in profuse repetition, or the wrapping technique featured across Shiota’s oeuvre, Kusama’s layer of dense tousles conceals the back of each box’s interior, leaving viewers to wonder about the origins of these otherworldly, textural forms.




    Left: Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S. 372), 1954, Collection of the Asheville Art Museum, North Carolina
    © 2021 Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    Right: Chiharu Shiota, State of Being (Puppet House), 2013
    Sold at Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction on 7 June 2021 for HK$693,000
    © Chiharu Shiota / ARS, New York


    However, as much as Kusama can be associated with the myriad of post-war artistic movements that spung up during the years that followed her move to the States, she was never a part of them, skilfully transcending genres to pursue an artistic trajectory of entirely her own.


    “New York is the place that made my and other artists' dreams come true by giving us a chance to realise our ideas and concepts.” 
    — Yayoi Kusama


     A Finite Box Holding an Infinite Vision


    Following a brief return in 1970, Kusama permanently relocated back to Japan in 1973. Though optimistic for new business opportunities and encouraged by the Japanese economic boom, she was deeply affected by the death of Joseph Cornell, her partner and close friend. Thusly, when considering Repetition in respect to the work of Kusama’s peers, the influence of Cornell must be acknowledged. 


    A pioneer of assemblage art, Cornell’s shadow boxes transformed everyday objects into entrancing treasures. Encased within wooden boxes, instead of conjuring themes of entrapment or captivity, his miniature masterpieces instead invited viewers to escape into them. After meeting in the 1960s, Kusama and Cornell pair entered into a passionate yet platonic relationship. He encouraged her art, and she inspired his, with Cornell creating many works in her honour. Admiring him fondly as he afforded her with ‘such pure kindness… that no one can hope for in the long-gone stream of life’, Kusama has praised his work in explaining ‘this kindness was born from [Cornell’s] lifelong marvellous artwork of ‘Box’ pieces and ‘collage’ pieces.’ v



    Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Pinturicchio Boy), 1942-1952
    © 2021 The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



    Equal to Cornell’s box constructions of the 1940s being intimately private in their devoted assemblage, it is important to note that none of the 120 components of Repetition are the same, despite the repetitive action of their construction. Individually fashioned out of the care of the artist’s own hand, each box is defined by unique details like ‘in a field of flowers, the stars in the sky, or the stones in a riverbed.’ vi Stacked tall to loom over the viewer and filled with her iconic motifs, the mesmerising effect of viewing Repetition up close versus from afar intertwines physical materiality with hallucinatory space, as it is revealed that Kusama’s expression of infinity is characterised by the uniqueness of each of its parts.




    Contrasting her earlier box constructions of solitary pieces that can be understood as formed in response to her more contained, smaller studio environment, by the mid-1980s Kusama had re-established her studio practice with explosive creativity. Perhaps inspired by aspects of contemporary art in Japan and its embrace of spectacle, the scale of her multi-part installations grew in parallel to her confidence and restored ambition.


    Executed in 1998, the same year as her major landmark retrospective Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1969 which toured the USA and Japan, Repetition exemplifies this area of Kusama’s legendary oeuvre at its very best. In its simultaneously epic and personal scale, it is a masterpiece that challenges the possibilities of artistic expression, Illustrating in its maturity the remarkable evolution of Kusama’s authoritative visual world.



    Yayoi Kusama at her solo exhibition at Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, 1991

    “All of my works are steps on my journey, a struggle for truth that I have waged with pen, canvas, and materials. Overhead is a distant, radiant star, and the more I stretch to reach it, the further it recedes. But by the power of my spirit and my single-hearted pursuit of the path, I have clawed my way through the labyrinthine confusion of the world of people in an unstinting effort to approach even one step closer to the realm of the soul.” 
    — Yayoi Kusama

    Collector’s Digest


    As a towering figure within the world of contemporary art, works by Kusama form part of extensive museum collections throughout the world. This includes the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.


    Kusama has been honoured with vast solo exhibitions throughout her career. Most recently, this has included a retrospective at Gropius Bau, Berlin (23 April – 15 August 2021), as well as exhibitons in New York at the Botanical Gardens (10 April – 31 October 2021) and at Victoria Miro in London (4 June – 31 July 2021).


    Her current solo exhibitons include Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms at the Tate Modern in London (18 May 2021 – 12 June 2022), and Yayoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden at the Rubell Museum in Miami (18 November 2020 – 12 December 2021).



    i Yayoi Kusama, quoted in Chris Kraus, ‘Accumulations’, Kusama, New York, 2012, p. 108

    ii Yayoi Kusama, quoted in Akira Tatehata, Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, p. 11

    iii Laura Hopton, ‘Yayoi Kusama: A Reckoning’, Yayoi Kusama, New York, 2000, p. 42

    iv Chiharu Shiota, quoted in Charlotte Jansen, ‘Tied up: Chiharu Shiota’s “Uncertain Journey” entangles Blain|Southern gallery, Berlin’, Wallpaper*, 20 September 2016, online

    v Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama: I Like Myself, Japan, 2007, p. 185

    vi Tohru Matsumoto, ‘Requiem and Resurrection: The Art of Yayoi Kusama’, YAYOI KUSAMA: Eternity – Modernity, Japan, 2005, p. 278

    • Provenance

      Gagosian, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

    • Exhibited

      New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Yayoi Kusama: Now, 11 June - 7 August 1998, pl. 10 (illustrated)
      Miami, Bass Museum of Art, Yayoi Kusama, 4 December 2002 - 11 May 2003, no. 32, p. 39 (illustrated, p. 19)
      Miami, Moore Building, Pop Minimalism | Minimalist Pop, 4 - 9 December 2018, pp. 109-110 (illustrated)

    • Literature

      Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehata and Udo Kultermann, eds., Yayoi Kusama, New York, 2000, p. 78 (installation view illustrated)
      Louise Neri and Takaya Goto, eds., YAYOI KUSAMA, New York, 2012, pp. 146-147, 281 (illustrated)
      Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehata, Udo Kultermann and Catherine Taft, eds., Yayoi Kusama, New York, 2017, p. 76 (installation view illustrated)

    • 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

Property from an Important Private Collection



each signed, titled and dated 'YAYOI KUSAMA 1998 "REPETITION"' on the underside
sewn stuffed fabric, wood and paint, in 120 parts
each 38 x 25.6 x 15 cm.
overall 228 x 512 x 15 cm.

Executed in 1998, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$15,000,000 - 20,000,000 

Sold for HK$19,005,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

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

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021