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

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  • Yayoi Kusama. The name almost needs no further elaboration, such its power. An artist who has crossed, demolished and defined the boundaries of art for the last 70 years, her oeuvre has been hallmarked by a rejection of limitation to medium, generation or movement. Pumpkin Chess Set is a unique work in an artist’s career, stemming from a small edition of only 7 plus 4 artist’s proofs. Here, Kusama incorporates the most defining motifs of her practice: a dexterity of geometric patterns, and pumpkins. Taking basic concepts from her feted Infinity Nets series, she employs them within a three dimensional plane to supplant them onto the mimicked contours of a pumpkin.


    The repeated use of spots through the sculpture holds profound resonance, and functions as an organ for her automatic reactions between her psyche and the materiality of her work. A storied example of the thin line between genius and madness, Kusama is diagnosed with an obsessional neurosis; as such her world is populated with schizophrenic hallucinations, panic attacks, psychological distress, and suicide attempts.


    Her intensive art practice acts as a form of self-therapy, a way to mediate the trauma of the everyday and a process that she calls ‘self-obliteration’. Though important to note, understand, and internalise, relegating her work to the musings of a mental patient is reductive – wrong. What instead should be celebrated is Kusama’s ability to tap into the depths of her identity and open the door into a mind quite unlike any other in the world. This is a conversation within Kusama herself that we should feel privileged to attend, and in which to indulge; a conversation the present lot presents a lighter chapter.


    The inclusion of a chess board on top of the half-sliced pumpkin lends the work a mode of the surreal, as if it were a table set for two opponents to engage in strategic battle – the pieces remaining in their starting positions. Shades of absurdism creep into the sculpture as we picture ourselves sitting down to play a classic game of chess atop a pumpkin – embodying the father of conceptualism, Marcel Duchamp’s decree that, “while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists”.


    Universally recognised as one of the most important artists of our time, Kusama’s work forms 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.


    She has recently been the subject of a landmark retrospective at M+ Museum in Hong Kong to celebrate the institution’s first birthday. 


    Having been honoured with extensive solo exhibitions throughout her career, including the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993 and a large retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2012, Kusama continues to affirm her position as a leading contemporary artist. She has recently presented a retrospective at the Gropius Bau in Berlin (23 April – 15 August 2021), and an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden (10 April – 31 October 2021). Kusama recently also had a solo exhibition at the Tate Modern in London and the Rubell Museum in Miami last year.

    • Provenance

      RS&A Ltd, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      St. Lucia, Bendigo Art Gallery; University of Queensland Art Museum; London, Saatchi Gallery, The Art of Chess, 30 October 2010 - 3 October 2012 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Coline Milliard, 'Checkmate: Saatchi Gallery Unveils Extraordinary Collection of Artist-designed Chessboards', ARTINFO, London, 7 September 2012
      Amah-Rose Abrams, 'Check Mates: 'The Art of Chess' at the Saatchi Gallery', The New York Times Style Magazine, 17 September 2012

    • 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



Pumpkin Chess Set

signed 'Yayoi Kusama' and stamped by the German Porcelain factory Villeroy & Boch on the underside of each chess piece
porcelain, leather and wood
overall 75 x 100 x 100 cm. (29 1/2 x 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
installation dimensions variable

Executed in 2003, this work is number 2 from an edition of 7 plus 4 artist's proofs, and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist and issued by RS&A Ltd.

Full Cataloguing

HK$2,400,000 - 4,000,000 

Sold for HK$3,024,000

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