Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 17, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Agnes and Frits Becht in Venice for the Biennale, 1966.

    “It was so beautiful.” – Agnes Becht

    Agnes and Frits Becht were not afraid of the avant-garde. The sole couple among their friends in the 1960s to collect work by an up-and-coming Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, the Dutch pair traveled to attend contemporary art events around Europe, from the Venice Biennale to conceptual gallery shows, including one of Kusama’s legendary naked Happenings, at the Birds Club in Amsterdam, in 1967. As a former ballet dancer, Agnes appreciated the dynamic focus of Kusama’s performance at the Birds Club; the choreography between the artist and the men she painted—though, she admits, the nudity was a bit shocking—she thinks you can see it in her expression in a photo snapped at the event.


    With a collection concentrated around Nouveau Réalisme, Pop Art, and Italian Conceptual Minimalism, the Bechts treasured personal relationships with the artists they collected, including Lucio Fontana, Jan Dibbets, and Kusama. As their granddaughter, Eline Becht, wrote in the curatorial note to accompany the exhibition, Personal Reflection: Works and Stories from the Agnes and Frits Becht Collection, The Parts Project, The Hague, 2022, Agnes and Frits took “a special approach to collecting, close to patronage, where the collector wishes to financially support the artist whilst giving them creative freedom and trusting their process.”i


    This is certainly the case in their relationship with Kusama, as their financial support opened new professional opportunities for the artist in Europe, beginning with their purchase of Red Stripes and Blue Spots in 1965. The two works have remained in the family collection ever since, an exceptional provenance for works by this artist, and they have featured in five major international Kusama retrospectives, among other exhibitions. Red Stripes and Blue Spots are some of Kusama’s earliest extant soft sculptures, and their tuberous motif anticipates her very first mirrored infinity room, Phalli’s Field, executed the same year as these two works. Recognizable worldwide, Red Stripes and Blue Spots are absolutely iconic early works by an international superstar.


    Agnes and Frits Becht in the background as Yayoi Kusama paints at the Naked Body Festival, Birds Club, Amsterdam, November 22, 1967.

    While working in the Netherlands, Yayoi Kusama created Red Stripes and Blue Spots for the 1965 exhibition, Facetten van de hedendaagse erotiek 1 (Facets of Contemporary Eroticism), with Internationale Galerij Orez, The Hague. When she arrived in The Hague, the gallery owners, Leo Verboon and Albert Vogel, supplied her with studio space and materials, including a sewing machine, and wooden boards like those that form the base of Red Stripes and Blue Spots.ii The work Kusama created in this period filled the entire front room of the gallery; the exhibition is thus considered her first solo show in Europe.iii


    Red Stripes and Blue Spots caught the Bechts’ eye; Frits purchased the two works from the gallery that autumn, in addition to a third work, Chair, 1965, now in the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art in Japan. This acquisition was the beginning of the couple’s relationship with the artist: as a result of the Bechts' patronage, Internationale Galerij Orez offered Kusama a contract for exclusive representation in Europe.iv As an expression of gratitude, Kusama gifted a fourth work to the couple, a silver shoe encrusted with the artist’s now-signature phallic protrusions.


    Two years later, the Bechts helped Kusama reclaim an entire shipping container of her work, which was stuck in customs in the UK.v Agnes remembers bringing the shipping container to the family home on a summer afternoon, and spreading all thiry-nine works out on the grass in the back garden. It was an overwhelming, even transcendent experience: “it was so beautiful, I think I must have died from it,” Agnes shared. It was as if one of Kusama’s infinity rooms landed in the Bechts’ backyard; they were completely immersed in Kusama’s world.


    Kusama poses in Phalli’s Field, 1965. Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA

    Red Stripes and Blue Spots are some of the earliest extant examples of the artist’s soft-sculpture motif of tuberous forms that smother the surface, which she began exploring in 1962, and brought to infinite expression in her first mirrored infinity room, Phalli’s Field, 1965. Red Stripes and Blue Spots concentrate Phalli’s Field onto squared boards; hung on the wall like paintings, the soft, cloth-covered striped and spotted forms reach out towards the viewer. Red Stripes brings together perhaps her most iconic color combination of red and white, as seen in the contemporary Phalli’s Field, while Blue Spots provides an early example of the polka dots which would come to define Kusama’s career. As she says, “polka dots are a way to infinity.”vi



    Kusama with Red Stripes and Blue Spots, 1965. Image: Marianne Dommisse / 0-INSTITUTE, Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA

    Kusama’s signature soft-sculptural shape grew out of her development of the infinity net motif in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As she explained in a later interview, “I painted infinity nets day after day, and while doing so, the whole room appeared to have been covered with nets. So I created pieces by covering sculptures with nets.”vii The undulation of the two-dimensional infinity nets expands into three dimensions in the tuberous shapes of Red Stripes and Blue Spots, as the eye scans across the varying heights and widths of the forms.


    While some critics demur, and describe the shapes of Red Stripes and Blue Spots as resembling coral or sausages, the artist herself has explicitly stated their phallic referent. She explained that the work “thickly covered in phalluses was my psychosomatic work done when I had a fear of sexual vision.”viii Just as her use of dots and nets allows her to obliterate anxiety through repetition, so sewing endless phalluses enabled the artist to overwhelm her fear.ix In her autobiography, Kusama wrote that the process “turns the frightening thing into something funny, something amusing. I’m able to revel in my illness in the dazzling light of day.”The knowing, brave expansion of fear and anxiety into a repetitive, obliterative surface, as in Red Stripes and Blue Spots, is a hallmark of Kusama’s practice.


    Kusama at International Galerij Orez, 1965, with Red Stripes hanging behind her. Image: Marianne Dommisse / 0-INSTITUTE, Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA

    Though Kusama moved to New York City in the late 1950s to establish herself as an international artist, she found greater success with European artists and audiences at first.xi From the mid-1960s until her return to Japan at the end of the decade, Kusama aimed to visit, create work, and exhibit with her European colleagues annually.xii Her aesthetics of repetition, accumulation, and obliteration aligned well with the European New Tendency, which included groups such as Zero (Germany), Nul (Amsterdam), and GRAV (Paris), among others.xiii Reacting against the broad and brash gestures of American Abstract Expressionism, and inspired by prewar abstractionists such as Piet Mondrian, New Tendency artists were captivated by the challenge of representing objects in space without use of illusionism.xiv As a result, many of them used repetitive, geometric, and monochromatic visual idioms, closely related to Kusama’s use of repetition in her Infinity Net paintings, for instance.


    Kusama was included in group shows with these artists from the start; in 1960, she featured in the first major international New Tendency show, Monochrome Malerei (Monochrome Painting), Städtisches Museum Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen, West Germany, where Composition, a white infinity net from 1959, hung alongside monochromes by Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and others.xv As a result of her participation in the show, Kusama became acquainted with the artists Heinz Mack, Otto Piene, and Günther Uecker from Zero, and Henk Peeters of Nul. She continued to exhibit with these artists throughout the 1960s.xvi


    While the connection between Kusama and her European peers is visually apparent, there is a level of vulnerability in Kusama’s work, as seen in Red Stripes and Blue Spots, that sets her apart. Generally speaking, the European artists’ work was aesthetic in nature: their goal was to find a visual representation of a theory of art-making.xvii For Kusama, however, the stakes were more personal; as she has expressed repeatedly throughout her career, her art-making is a life-saving practice that allows her to process and express the trauma and mental illness she has experienced.xviii The emotional vulnerability of this practice makes it all the more approachable, and relatable, even sixty years on.


    [Left] Günther Uecker, Chair (II), 1963. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, Artwork:  © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
    [Right] Kusama, Accumulation No. 1, 1962. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA

    Compare, for example, Uecker’s practice of hammering nails into obsessive, idiosyncratic patterns on pieces of furniture, with Kusama’s accumulation series begun in 1962, where the phallic forms of Red Stripes and Blue Spots first make their appearance in three dimensions. As Laura Hoptman writes in her catalogue essay for Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968, both artists’ works give “domestic objects a threatening [and] clearly sexual frisson.”xix But where Uecker’s work is standoffish—the hard texture of nails protruding from stools and tables—Kusama’s spotted, striped, and painted protuberances beg to be touched. Uecker’s work bristles; Kusama’s beckons. Kusama’s oeuvre, at large, encourages interactivity between the viewer and the artwork in a way that other New Tendency artists’ did not, and it is this interactivity that has carried her forward into 21st century popularity.xx



    Red Stripes and Blue Spots in exhibitions, 1968-2018.

  • Red Stripes and Blue Spots have always toured as a set, from their earliest exhibition in 1968, up to their most recent turn in a Yayoi Kusama retrospective in Berlin and Tel Aviv last year. The pair have been part of many major Kusama exhibitions, including the blockbuster retrospective tours, Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968, 1998-1999, and Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, 2017-2019, which combined saw millions of visitors. Red Stripes and Blue Spots are iconic early Kusama works, recognizable worldwide, and they are an integral part of Kusama’s story as an artist.


    Today, Kusama’s presence in the art world continues to expand, as her international retrospectives, installations, and gallery shows grow ever larger. “I am determined to create a Kusama world,” she said in a statement alongside her 2023 collaboration with Louis Vuitton.xxi Her work is immersive, all-consuming, and infinite—this is Kusama’s world, and we’re just living in it.


    Collectors’ Digest


    Red Stripes and Blue Spots in the Becht family home, 1968.
    • Red Stripes and Blue Spots have been in the Becht family collection for nearly sixty years. The works first hung on the Bechts’ houseboat in Loenen aan de Vecht, before the family moved to a new home in 1966.

    • Phillips holds the world auction record for Kusama, with Untitled (Nets), 1959, which realized $10.5M in our New York Evening Sale, May 2022.

    • M+ Museum, Hong Kong, Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, through May 14, 2023, is the largest Kusama retrospective ever exhibited in Asia, outside of Japan.

    • David Zwirner Gallery, New York, I Spend Each Day Embracing Flowers, opening May 12, 2023, will be the artist’s largest gallery show, to date.

    • Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam, Yayoi Kusama: The Dutch Years, 1965-1970, an exhibition on Kusama’s time in the Netherlands, opens Sep. 23, 2023. 




    Eline Becht, “Collecting Collection, Personal Reflection: Works and Stories from the Agnes and Frits Becht Collection,” exh. cat., The Parts Project, The Hague, 2022, online.

    ii Tijs Visser, ed., Kusama with Love from Holland, 0-Institute, 2022, p. 69.

    iii Ibid., 70.

    iv Ibid., 103.

    Ibid., 99.

    vi Yayoi Kusama, quoted in “Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, accessed Mar. 2023, online.

    vii Kusama, quoted in Grady T. Turner, “Yayoi Kusama,” BOMB Magazine, Jan. 1, 1999, online.

    viii Ibid.

    ix David Pilling, “The world according to Yayoi Kusama,” Financial Times, 2012, online.

    Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, 2011, quoted in “Yayoi Kusama, Accumulation, c. 1963” (transcript), The Whitney Museum of American Art, online.

    xi Laura Hoptman, “Down to Zero: Yayoi Kusama and the European New Tendency,” in Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1968, exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1998, p. 43.

    xii Kusama with Love from Holland, 70.

    xiii Hoptman, 44.

    xiv Ibid.

    xv Ibid.

    xvi Ibid.

    xvii Ibid, 45.

    xviii For instance, see Kusama, quoted in Turner.

    xix Hoptman, 45.

    xx Ibid., 47.

    xxi Kusama, quoted in “Louis Vuitton Yayoi Kusama,” Louis Vuitton, accessed Mar. 2023, online.

    • Provenance

      Internationale Galerij Orez, The Hague
      Acquired from the above by the present owners in 1965

    • Exhibited

      The Hague, Internationale Galerij Orez, Facets of Contemporary Eroticism, May 1965
      Eindhoven, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum; Ghent, Sint Pietersabdij, ‘three blind mice’ de collecties: Visser, Peeters, Becht collections, April 6–August 15, 1968, no. 127, p. 76 (installation view in the Becht's home illustrated, p. 58; installed and illustrated in horizontal orientation)
      Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Collectie Becht, March 16–May 6, 1984, no. 300, p. 230 (illustrated, p. 134)
      Labège, Centre régional d'art contemporain Midi-Pyrénées, Collection Agnes et Frits Becht, September 23–November 8, 1987
      Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, The Museum of Modern Art (no. 79, pp. 177, 182, 186, 187; illustrated, p. 161); Minneapolis, The Walker Art Center; Tokyo, The Museum of Contemporary Art (no. 79, pp. 180, 185, 189, 190; illustrated, p. 161), Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958-1969, March 8, 1998–July 4, 1999
      Columbus, Wexner Center for the Arts, Part Object Part Sculpture, October 30, 2005–February 26, 2006, pp. 19, 167, 272, 276 (illustrated, p. 18)
      Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art; City Gallery Wellington, Yayoi Kusama: Mirrored Years, August 23, 2008–February 7, 2010, pp. 289, 291, 297 (installation view illustrated, pp. 14, 17, 18; the artist with the present work, 1965, illustrated, p. 151)
      The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Happy Days: Art in The Hague 1947-1967, September 1, 2012–January 20, 2013
      Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Art & Textiles: Fabric as Material and Concept in Modern Art from Klimt to the Present, October 12, 2013–June 22, 2014, p. 370 (illustrated, p. 163)
      Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Oslo, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter; Stockholm, Moderna Museet; HAM Helsinki Art Museum, YAYOI KUSAMA. In Infinity, September 17, 2015–January 8, 2017, pp. 58, 125 (illustrated, p. 59)
      Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Seattle Art Museum; Los Angeles, The Broad; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario; Cleveland Museum of Art; Atlanta, High Museum of Art, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, February 23, 2017–February 17, 2019, fig. 11, pl. 39, p. 220 (the artist with the present work, 1965, illustrated, p. 24; illustrated, p. 156)
      Berlin, Gropius Bau, Yayoi Kusama: Retrospective. A Bouquet of Love I saw in the Universe; then travelled as Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective, March 19, 2021–April 23, 2022, p. 337 (illustrated, p. 116; Castellane Gallery, New York, 1965, illustrated on the exhibition poster, p. 115)

    • Literature

      Floor Show: Kusama, exh. cat., Catellane Gallery, New York, 1965 (illustrated on the exhibition poster)
      Yayoi Kusama: Early Drawings from the Collection of Richard Castellane, exh. cat., Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, 2000, p. 9 (Castellane Gallery, New York, 1965, illustrated on the exhibition poster)
      Yayoi Kusama: Eternity-Modernity, exh. cat., The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 2005, fig. 21, pp. 232, 301 (Internationale Galerij Orez, The Hague, 1965, installation view with the artist illustrated, p. 233)
      Yayoi Kusama, exh. cat., Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2011, p. 108, note 9 (titled Black Dots)
      Louise Neri and Takaya Goto, eds., Yayoi Kusama, New York, 2012, p. 289 (illustrated)
      David Alm, “At 87, Yayoi Kusama Continues to Create Spaces of Wonder; 'Infinity Mirrors' to Tour US in 2017,” Forbes, August 22, 2016, online (illustrated)
      Caroline de Westenholz, Higher that Level! A History of International Gallery Orez, Amsterdam, 2016, p. 231, note 112 (Internationale Galerij Orez, The Hague, 1965, installation view with the artist illustrated, p. 78)
      Roger Catlin, “Follow the Polka Dots to Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Rooms That Are Breaking Museum Records,” Smithsonian Magazine, February 28, 2017, online (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 2017, installation view illustrated)
      Nina Azzarello, “the hirshhorn museum hosts six immersive infinity mirror rooms by yayoi kusama,” designboom, March 8, 2017, online (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., 2017, installation view illustrated)
      Eliza Jordan, ““Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors” at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden,” whitewall, April 18, 2017, online
      Claudia Rousseau, “Reflections on Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors,” East City Art, May 2, 2017, online
      Tijs Visser, ed., KUSAMA: with love from holland, Voorschoten, 2022, p. 107 (Internationale Galerij Orez, The Hague, 1965, installation view with the artist illustrated, pp. 68, 70, 143, 144; Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1968, installation view illustrated, p. 99)

    • 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

Property from the Agnes and Frits Becht Collection


Blue Spots

signed, titled and dated "BLUE SPOTS KUSAMA 1965" on the reverse
stuffed cotton and kapok on wood
31 1/2 x 26 7/8 x 4 in. (80 x 68.3 x 10.2 cm)
Executed in 1965, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

This work has been requested for inclusion in the artist’s forthcoming exhibition Yayoi Kusama. The Dutch Years 1965-1970 organized by the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, to be held from September 23, 2023–January 25, 2024.

Full Cataloguing

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $3,206,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2023