Yayoi Kusama - New Now New York Wednesday, September 26, 2018 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Yayoi Kusama’s Butterfly represents a historic return for the artist to her mature style. Painted in 1982, the same year she would exhibit large new paintings and sculpture at Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo and return to the European gallery scene with an exhibition at Naviglio Gallery in Milan, Butterfly manifests Kusama’s trademark motifs – the infinity net and the obliterating dots – in an immediately iconic depiction of one of her primary subjects, the butterfly. So successful did she deem this painting that she translated it into a screenprint just a few years later in order for its broader dissemination (see lot 40.)

    1982 represents a seminal year for the artist following a tumultuous decade in which she ultimately made the commitment to move permanently into the psychiatric hospital that remains her home today. The artist has suffered from psychotic neuroses her entire life which manifest as hallucinations of infinite repetitions of nets and dots overlaid on her whole universe – her paintings are attempts to make tangible these visions. However, by 1982, Kusama re-emerged into the public eye in a grand way with her exhibitions at Fuji and Noviglia. The signature motif of Butterfly can thus be interpreted as a potent and beautiful symbol for, and of, the artist, heightened here by her own metamorphosis. Kusama’s practice was radically reinvigorated from thence forth.

    Butterfly vibrantly encases the symbolic dots in a formal attempt to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe. Kusama’s painting here presents an interesting dichotomy between the calming and whimsical visual qualities of the composition and the artist’s inquisitive, and obsessive, drive to contain and constrain her neuroses. Notably, the butterfly – made up of those quintessential dots – is not at all constrained by the seemingly limitless weave of nets that emanates out from beneath and behind. “I am not concerned with Surrealism, Pop Art, Minimal Art, or whatever. I am so absorbed in living my life,” and to that one might add creating her own idiosyncratic and iconic brand of art. The infinite repetition of the dots and nets represents a confrontation with an obsession with space, time, and the reality of its eventual termination, and Kusama has, in Butterfly, executed a masterful composition that blends her own autobiographical figurative and abstract imagery with the same psychic charge that emanates from her finest and most successful work.

  • 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.

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signed, titled and dated "Butterfly [in Japanese] 1982 Yayoi Kusama" on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
14 7/8 x 17 7/8 in. (38 x 45.5 cm.)
Painted in 1982, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the Yayoi Kusama studio.

$180,000 - 250,000 

Sold for $375,000

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New Now

New York Auction 26 September 2018