Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session New York Wednesday, May 16, 2018 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • Provenance

    Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    "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 infinitude of the universe."
    Yayoi Kusama

    Painted in 1990, Nebula is a stunning painting that features Yayoi Kusama’s distinctive cosmic dot motif, central to the artist’s impressive oeuvre. In the late 1980s, Kusama decided to only present her new works in solo shows every few years, focusing her energies on creating series of paintings in the studio before unveiling them to the public. As such, this period in the artist’s career marks Kusama’s return to painting in a large scale similar to the extensive Infinity Net paintings from the late 1950s. Nebula is an elegant example of Kusama’s repetitive polka dots, featuring varying perfect white celestial circles, set against a semi-translucent sea of soft blue-gray acrylic. In contrast to the early New York paintings, built up with thick impasto, her paintings from the end of the 20th century are characterized by a more tightly refined aesthetic, achieved after her return to Japan in the 1970s. Meticulously painted in a combination of thinly applied washes of gray and opaque circles of white exactingly rendered within clearly defined borders, Nebula evokes a geometric balance that is strikingly soothing, and at once dizzying and grounding.

    Yayoi Kusama’s fascination with the cosmic is evident throughout the entirety of her oeuvre. In fact, the artist declared that the origins of her polka dots are tied to her interest in the universe, inspired by the infinite possibilities of celestial bodies. As Kusama recalled, “When I was a child, one day I was walking in the field, then all of a sudden, the sky became bright over the mountains, and I saw clearly the very image I was about to paint appear in the sky. I also saw violets, which I was painting, multiply to cover the doors, windows and even my body….I immediately transferred the idea onto a canvas” (Yayoi Kusama, quoted in “Damien Hirst Questions Yayoi Kusama, Across the Water, May, 1998” in Kusama: Now, exh. cat., Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1998, p. 15).

    Later in her career, Kusama’s specific interest in repetition became a means of coping with her psychosomatic anxiety, achieved through a painstaking artistic process that combats the traumas of her psychological abyss. These intensely personal undertones differentiate her Minimalist aesthetic from the works of Western artists. As Alexandra Munroe points out, “Kusama’s paintings differ from Zero and Nul … in many of the same ways it differed from American Minimalism … Kusama’s repetition was never mechanistic or deductive, but the product of obsessional, compulsive performance.” (Alexandra Munroe, “Radical Will: Yayoi Kusama and the International Avant Garde – Kusama’s Paintings and Sculpture in the 1960s” in Yayoi Kusama: Between Heaven and Earth, exh. cat., Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo, 1991) As such, Kusama occupies a uniquely personal position in the canon of art history with paintings that are as much as testament to her talent as a painter as they are to her inner demons.

  • 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 Nebula [in Kanji] 1990" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
35 7/8 x 28 3/4 in. (91.1 x 73 cm.)
Painted in 1990, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the Yayoi Kusama studio.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $423,000

Contact Specialist
John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session
New York
+1 212 940 1261

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Morning Session

New York Auction 16 May 2018