Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Sunday, November 28, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots – an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net.”  — Yayoi Kusama  


    VIOLET OBSESSION by Yayoi Kusama

    One day          suddenly         my voice

    Became the voice of a violet

    Stilling my heart         Stopping my breath

    You’re for real, aren’t you

    All you little things who

    Happened today


    The violets on the tablecloth break free

    And crawl       over my body

    One by one      they stick to me

    Sumire flowers, violets

    Have come to steal my love


    The danger is growing, isn’t it?
    Just standing there      inside the


    Look – even on the ceiling and pillars


    Violets adhere

    Youth is hard to hold on to

    O Violets, little flowers – don’t talk to


    Give me back the voice that became a violet’s voice

    I don’t want to be an adult – not yet

    All I ask is       one more year

    Please let me be till then



    The works of Yayoi Kusama are sometimes quiet, vibrating with a concealed intensity beneath eddying whorls of an intricate network; sometimes loud, with vibrant dots accumulated on the surface of bulging sculptures describing organic growths phallic, fungoid and floral; sometimes deliriously beautiful, reflecting viewers in infinite repetition of cosmic light and mirror fixtures; and, at one point, outrageous – Dionysian orgies slash Happenings operating with the singular aim of obliteration. Born in the Nagano prefecture in 1929, Kusama was plagued by onslaughts of visual and auditory hallucinations attributed to an obsessional neurosis, and thus driven to create by the phantasmagoria of her own mind. Even now, she cites the purpose of her art as psychosomatic release, a means of release from her fears and obsessions as well as preoccupations with the nature of the universe.


    The association between art and madness is an ancient one, with, for example, Socrates pitting reason against inspiration as he states in Plato’s Ion that ‘Epic poets who are good at all are never masters of their subject. They are inspired and possessed… like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysus but not when they are in their right mind’. Kusama herself has stated that ‘(her) work was based upon the irrepressible outpouring of what was already inside me’, a force which made her ‘a slave to the act of creation’i.



    Albrecht Dürer, Melancolia I, 1514
    Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


    And yet, her mental disposition alone is insufficient to explain the force and universal acclaim of her works. In her oeuvre one finds a tension between control and catharsis. Kusama appears to oscillate between channeling her obsessions into palpable material form in an act of exorcistic therapy, and succumbing as a medium between two realms, the oneiric and the real, to communicate the inexplicable. For example, her Infinity Nets were often the result of episodes of severe neurosis, in which day bled into night as she painted, slipping in and out of lucidity, sometimes believing the nets themselves to crawl over her own flesh. Prostrated before the ‘magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power’, Kusama painted not purely out of free will, but in a ‘fever born of desperation.’ii


    These colossal mesh paintings expressed both the interconnectivity of the universe and our particulate loneliness within the cosmos. As agglomerations of dots emerge from within the negative space of the nets, one is struck by a sense of immeasurable space stretching beyond the surface. Subtle variations in the vast aggregations morph into a single rippling organism. Condensed into incomprehensible dots, Kusama homogenised her vision of the world, dissolving unique identity and its worldly significance, thus both relieving and asserting herself of her own existence.



    Mark Tobey, White Night, 1942
    Collection of the Seattle Art Museum
    © 2021 Mark Tobey / Seattle Art Museum, Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Growing in pre-war and wartime Japan, Kusama understood violence as an agent of patriarchal domination, the male’s egotistical pursuit of power. Her mother was abusive, her father prone to frequent trysts, and sex an unmentionable taboo. In her Accumulation series, Kusama sought confrontation with the resulting fear-cum-obsession of sex through her mechanical production of phallic forms. She infected the surface of everyday objects, such as clothing, furniture, boats, and even entire rooms, with hand-sewn phallic protuberances. Through repetition, the protrusions of phallic objects in space accumulate such that positive and negative space meld, cancel, and thus obliterate herself along with the fear. 



    Claes Oldenburg, Soft Calendar for the Month of August 1962, 1962,
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art, produced shortly after Kusama’s first phallic sculpture, Accumulation No. 1
    © 2021 Claes Oldenburg


    More popular installations included rooms of flashing lights and mirrors to perpetrate the illusion of a world consumed by interminable repetitive pattern, superimposing our own narcissism, a gawking image, amidst the blinking, indifferent void. The result is always dazzling, demonstrating Kusama’s ability to utilise simple material to the most profound phenomenological effect. The viewer is seduced by what Robert Morris referred to as ‘gestalt sensations’ iii, engulfed by spectacle.



    Damien Hirst, Abalone Acetone Powder, 1991
    © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved / DACS, London / ARS, NY 2021


    The current work, Summer-Stars QPTW, is a rarely seen piece. Featuring the polka dot, the most persistent motif in Kusama’s career, the work evokes the erect joy of her large sculptures of flowers and pumpkins. Bathed in red, the dots appear as individual cells, variously coloured and sized. Emerging from a pool of blood, the orbs are vaguely suggestive of pathogenic microbes in perpetual multiplication, appearing also as celestial bodies tangentially related by gravitational pull and orbit. The dots expand and contract, in midst of creation and decay, succinctly describing the very foundation of Kusama’s art: 'dissolution and accumulation; propagation and separation; particulate obliteration and unseen reverberations from the universe'iv.


    Works by Yayoi Kusama are held in museum collections worldwide, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Tate, London; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; among numerous others. Yayoi Kusama Museum, dedicated to the artist’s work, opened in 2017 in Tokyo. The first comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work was on view at Gropius Bau, Berlin, through to 15 August 2021. KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature was also on view at The New York Botanical Garden through to 31 October 2021. Tate Modern, London, is presenting Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms through 12 June 2022. Kusama lives and works in Tokyo.



    i Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London, 2013

    ii ibid.

    iii Robert Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture’, Artforum International, 1966

    iv Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London, 2013, p. 69

    • Provenance

      Victoria Miro Gallery, London
      Private Collection
      Victoria Miro Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Victoria Miro Gallery, Yayoi Kusama, 10 October - 17 November 2007, n.p. (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



signed, titled and dated 'YAYOI KUSAMA 2007 "SUMMER-STARS [in English and Japanese] QPTW"' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
194 x 194 cm. (76 3/8 x 76 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2007, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist’s studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,500,000 - 6,500,000 

Sold for HK$10,898,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

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

Hong Kong Auction 29 November 2021