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  • "I made my art to try and change peoples’ minds about the love in the world that can last forever."                   —Yayoi Kusama

    As a ten year-old, with a childhood characterised by an absent, womanising father and a violence-prone mother, the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama began to experience vivid hallucinations: flashes of light, auras, and dense fields of dots. Flowers spoke to Kusama and fabric patterns came to life, multiplying and engulfing her. ‘Self-obliteration’ became a significant theme in Kusama's art, whilst her artistic accumulations, obsessions, and repetitions became an escape from her family troubles and her own mind during hallucinatory spells. 

     

    Yayoi Kusama,Untitled, 1939

    Untitled (1939), a portrait of her mother, is one of Kusama’s earliest works. A young woman in a kimono, gently closes her eyes, the sad resigned expression upon her face obliterated by dots that cover her eyelids, forehead and neck.

     

    By contrast, this present lot Untitled (1970) is a triumphant self-portrait executed during a brief return to Japan towards the end of Kusama’s 14-year sojourn in New York. Although Kusama was marginalised as a young Japanese woman and did not benefit from the same support of her male counterparts, New York represented freedom and escape from a Japanese society she considered ‘too small, too servile, too feudalistic, and too scornful of women’.i  Kusama’s years in New York were a time of intense self-discovery and self-actualisation: she became enmeshed in New York’s art scene, and despite her lifelong fear of sex she forged close relationships with Donald Judd and Joseph Cornell. Her artistic expression manifested itself in pioneering mirror art (in particular Kusama’s Peep Show, also known as her Endless Love Show, at the Castellane Gallery in New York) and radical, politically-charged public performances protesting against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.

     

    ‘Kusama's Peep Show or Endless Love Show’, 1966, via pinterest

    In Untitled (1970) Kusama portrays herself as a radiant goddess, primitive and fertile. This self-portrait overturns Kusama’s notion of ‘self-obliteration’, using the mesmerising maze of dots and lines to construct a powerful, timeless identity. In a photo of Kusama taken that same year, she is captured having proudly conquered the demons that once pursued her, standing in front of a protest poster whilst the accumulations that once haunted her are reduced to a few flaccid fashion accessories on her blouse and vanity case. Untitled (1970) captures an artist working at her peak, and speaks of an exultant self-confidence that would sadly be battered by the events and tragedies that would befall Kusama in the years to come (see by contrast The Day (Being) Buried in the (Flower) Garden, 1978). 

     

    Yayoi Kusama in one of her New York studios 1970
    Photo: Thomas Haar

     

    Trailer for Kusama: Infinity (2018)

     
    i Yayoi Kusama, quoted in Darryl Wee, ‘The Unstoppable Yayoi Kusama’, WSJ Magazine, 6 February 2017, online

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Japan (acquired directly from the artist)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • 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. 

      View More Works

Property from an Important Private Japanese Collection

168

Untitled

1970
signed and dated 'KUSAMA 70' lower left; further signed and dated 'Yayoi Kusama 1970' on the reverse
marker pen on canvas
53 x 45.5 cm. (20 7/8 x 17 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1970, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the Yayoi Kusama studio.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
HK$1,200,000 - 2,200,000 
€131,000-240,000
$154,000-282,000

Sold for HK$4,032,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

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

Hong Kong Auction 4 December 2020