Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Tuesday, November 29, 2022 | Phillips

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  • ‘‘Polka dots can’t stay alone. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environments. With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved. In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars. All of us live in the unfathomable mystery and infinitude of the universe.’’
    — Yayoi Kusama
    In Yayoi Kusama’s Red Shoe, a rhythmic ensemble of colour, shape and dotted texture form a captivatingly intricate illustration of a high-heeled boot backgrounded by a tall stem with swirling leaves. A jagged black border frames the dynamic composition, focusing the viewer’s attention on the ruby red and purple shoe situated at the centre, which appears to almost come to life amongst the hypnotic swirl of Kusama polka-dots.


    Executed in 1979, the vibrant work was created six years after Kusama permanently moved back to Japan from New York in 1973, and two years after she checked herself into a private psychiatric facility in Tokyo, seeking treatment and stability from her mental and physical battles. She set up her studio a few minutes’ walk from the hospital and, having found this to be an optimal environment where she could totally devote herself with confidence to her art – this is still where she lives and works today.


    In a seemingly infinitesimal range of sizes, royal blue spots dot the sunset-toned background of Red Shoe to establish a spectacular sense of proliferating, pictorial space. Dancing around the blossoming green stalk and falling leaves, the polka dots simultaneously conjure images of scattered seeds, drawing a link to Kusama’s connection to the natural world and her childhood spent at her family’s seed farm in Matsumoto, where her plaguing hallucinations of ‘dense fields of dots’ first began.


    ‘‘My room, my body, the entire universe was filled with [patterns]…… myself was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and the absolute of space. This was not an illusion but reality.’’
    — Yayoi Kusama

    The shoe, on the other hand, draws an instant connection to the soft sculptures that dominated Kusama’s practice in the 1960s. Embodying both her obsessive-compulsive disorder and sexual anxieties, Kusama affixed stuffed, phallic protuberances to domestic objects such as chairs, ladders, heels, and boots—examples of which are now housed in the permanent collections of institutions such as Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For these sculptures, Kusama tapped into the legacy of Dadaism to elevate everyday objects to icons of contemporary art. Not only did these creations set her apart from the male-dominated art scene of New York that was not initially welcoming to a young, female Japanese artist, they proved to be influential for the burgeoning Pop art movement which too, employed household objects and repetition, except to explore themes of consumerism and mass production.


    Andy Warhol, Shoe and Leg ("December Shoe"), circa 1956 Collection of The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh
     © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 2000.2.1275

    Kusama has explored clothing has a prominent motif over the course of her oeuvre (see for example, High Heels for Going to Heaven (2014) in the collection of SFO Museum; or Flowers—Overcoat (1964) in the collection of the Smithsonian). From the designed costumes in her extravaganzas and happenings, the establishment of her Kusama Fashion Company Ltd., to her numerous collaborations with major fashion houses (most recently with Louis Vuitton for a series of leather goods launching as part of the brand’s 2023 cruiseline collection), fashion has influenced Kusama just as Kusama has influenced the industry. 


    Yayoi Kusama x Louis Vuitton Capsule Collection, 2012 
    Video Courtesy of Louis Vuitton


    In Red Shoe, the shoe in question is detailed with the same meticulous netted pattern as in Kusama’s iconic Infinity Net paintings – here, with an overlay of red on yellow. It was executed during a notable period in Kusama’s output where she began to incorporate more concrete motifs, departing away from the abstracted life and death themes explored in the collages and objects produced upon her return to Japan. As such, although the present work was created during a period of uncertainty in the artist’s life, the acrylic and pen composition exhibits a variety of distinguishing features that make it instantly recognisable as a Kusama piece, masterfully showcasing a remarkable commitment to the motifs, patterns and colours that remain consistent throughout the development of her individualised style.


    Detail of the present work

    Widely recognised as one of the most important artists of our time, Kusama’s work has been celebrated across extensive global solo exhibitions, most recently at Tate Modern, London with Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms (2021 – 2022) and Yayoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden at the Rubell Museum in Miami (18 November 2020 – 12 December 2021). Her works form part of museum collections throughout the world, including 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.


    A major solo show is currently being hosted by the M+ Museum in Hong Kong, having opened on 12 November 2022 to coincide with the museum’s first anniversary. Titled Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, it is the largest retrospective of Kusama’s work in Asia outside of Japan, comprising of more than 200 works. The show will run until 14 May 2023.


    In May 2022, Phillips achieved the artist’s top result at auction with the sale of Kusama’s work, Untitled (Nets) (1959) which hammered down for US$10,496,000 Premium against estimates of US$5,000,000 - 7,000,000, overtaking the previous record which had been recently been set in Hong Kong in December 2021.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Shinwa Auction, Tokyo, 5 April 2008, lot 328
      Private Collection
      Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 6 October 2013, lot 904
      Acquired at the above sale 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 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


Red Shoe

signed, stamped with the artist's seal and dated '1979 YAYOI KUSAMA' upper left; further signed, titled and dated '"Red Shoe" [in Japanese] 1979 Yayoi Kusama' on the reverse
acrylic, gouache and marker pen on paper
51.3 x 65.5 cm. (20 1/4 x 25 3/4 in.)
Executed in 1979, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$3,000,000 - 5,000,000 

Sold for HK$4,914,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2022