Yayoi Kusama - New Now New York Tuesday, September 24, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, New York
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Yayoi Kusama arrived in New York in 1957 with her collection of small still lifes, portraits and natural scenes, all of which incorporated what would develop into her iconic, uniquely personal artistic idiom. Her spectacular early works on paper, including Butterfly and Embryo each from 1953 reference her academic training in Japanese nihonga painting, which utilized a water-based medium applied in layered washes to create a dynamic composition, placing great emphasis on the depiction of the natural world. Butterfly and Embryo mark an interesting transition between her earlier, traditional Japanese artistic conventions and her exploratory attempts to manifest the infinitude of the unbounded universe. Kusama’s interest in the natural world was directly influenced by her upbringing, as explained by Rachel Taylor, a curator at the Tate Modern, “Kusama’s family made their living by cultivating plant seeds and she grew up surrounded by fields full of flowers. This formative environment has been a touchstone for the artist throughout her life.”

    Kusama finds the process of mark-making to be very healing, allowing her delicate handwork to soothe and de-clutter her mind. The resulting whimsical and colorful compositions in turn represent her own obsession to assert authority over her swirling thoughts. Butterfly and Embryo recall the complexity of organic patterns that can be found within the human body and the natural world; seemingly delicate and transient, the compositions form a web in their detailed patterning, a forceful artistic net built of strength and endurance. She skillfully touches on themes that define all of our lives — fragility, strength, impermanence and resilience -- while attempting to find balance in her own thoughts.

    The surreal-like dreamscapes of Kusama’s early works on paper are comprised of layers of watery hued gouaches and give the illusion that she is capturing a fleeting moment. Whether an embryo in the process of development or a butterfly flapping its wings as it prepares to take flight, Kusama emphasizes that nothing is ever really still – our thoughts, the inner workings of the body, the natural world. Capturing this in two-dimensional form is her attempt to find equilibrium and assert control. Kusama’s early works on paper are a prelude to what would become the pursuit of her artistic practice, to find peace between her two eternal and contradictory attitudes, the controlling aspect of repetition and the liberating effects of losing control.

  • 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



signed and dated "YAYOI KUSAMA 1953" lower left and dated "1953" lower center; further signed, titled and dated "Embryo 1953 KUSAMA" on the reverse
gouache, pastel and ink on paper
8 3/4 x 11 1/2 in. (22.2 x 29.2 cm.)
Executed in 1953, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by YAYOI KUSAMA Inc.

$80,000 - 120,000 

Contact Specialist
Sam Mansour
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1219

New Now

New York Auction 24 September 2019