Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 14, 2022 | Phillips
  •  "I adore pumpkins. As my spiritual home since childhood, pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind. Pumpkins talk to me, giving off an aura of my sacred mental state. They embody a base for the joy of living shared by all humankind on earth. It is for the pumpkins that I keep on going."
    —Yayoi Kusama
    Undoubtedly one of the most iconic motifs of contemporary art and of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s incredible 70 year career, the polka-dot covered pumpkin combines the artist’s compulsive focus on infinity and repetition with a highly personal and self-reflective dimension. Like Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans, Kusama’s bright and brilliantly patterned gourds are so closely connected to the artist that they function as both allegory and mode of self-representation, acting as a universal signature of the artist. Rendered in vibrant hues of rich, golden yellow and deep black most typically associated with the motif, the titular pumpkin is joyously misshapen here, crowned with an unusual blue stalk and set against a vibrant background of tessellating green geometric shapes that draw immediate connections with the artist’s celebrated Infinity Net series. Particularly dynamic, the jagged vermillion border to the top and bottom edges of the canvas frames the gourd, focussing our attention on its capacity for infinite repetition and obliteration. 


    Yayoi Kusama, installation shot of All the Eternal Love I have for the Pumpkins, 2017. Image: Jurriaan Brobbel / Alamy Stock Photo, Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    Roots of the Pumpkin

    Growing up on her family’s seed farm in Matsumoto, Kusama was surrounded by the natural world, an environment that directly informed the severe auditory and visual hallucinations that the artist first began to suffer as a child. Unlike her more terrifying accounts of talking flowers that threatened to swallow her up in their infinite reproduction that can be traced in her later phallic soft-sculpture accumulations, the pumpkin was a more comforting vision. As the artist recalls, ‘The first time I ever saw a pumpkin was when I was in elementary school and went with my grandfather to visit a bog seed-harvesting ground […] and there it was: a pumpkin the size of a man’s head […] it immediately began speaking to me in a most animated manner. It seems that pumpkins do not inspire much respect, but I was enchanted by their charming and winsome form.’i"Dissolution and accumulation; propagation and separation; particulate obliteration and unseen reverberations from the universe—these were to become the foundations of my art."
    —Yayoi Kusama
    For Kusama, the experience of self-obliteration is ultimately positive, restoring the artist to an infinite plenitude which the repetitive accumulations, polka dots, and infinite spaces of the mirrored environments and nets facilitate, acting as both the materialisation of these visions and a therapeutic response to them, a translation of ‘hallucinations and a fear of hallucination into paintings.’ii In co-opting the ‘charming’ pumpkin into her repertoire, Kusama distilled her internal struggles into a colourful and approachable form, restoring her to equilibrium and bringing joy to countless visitors in its radiant celebration of live and energy.

    Beyond this personal narrative, Pumpkin also connects Kusama’s work to some of the defining currents of artistic thought in the second half of the 20th century, uniting the bold, graphic qualities of Pop’s serial approach to everyday items with Minimalist reduction and an emphasis on pattern and visual sensation linked to Op Art. While Kusama’s Infinity Nets and immersive installations align with a cosmic vision of obliteration, the pumpkin grounds this sense of unimaginable vastness in the natural world, recalling her mentor Georgia O’Keeffe’s expansive treatment of organic forms.


    Left: Georgia O’Keeffe, An Orchid, 1941, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence, Artwork: © 2022 Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London
    Right: Detail of the present work

    The pumpkin made its first appearance at the very outset of the artist’s career in the 1940s, although the motif would only move to the centre of Kusama’s practice in the 1980s and 90s. Executed in 1989, Pumpkin represents an important early iteration of the signature polka-dot covered gourd, featuring the same formal elements that the artist would go on to use in her most iconic installations to date, including the immersive mirrored environment created for the 1993 La Biennale di Venezia and many of her colossal outdoor sculptures.


     Yayoi Kusama reading her poem ‘Pumpkins’ 


    Collector’s Digest

    • One of the most prominent and prolific artists working today, Yayoi Kusama’s practice blends painting, installation, sculpture, and performance to powerful effect.

    • Arguably her most iconic motif, the pumpkin has appeared in various different formats in Kusama’s career, including paintings, colossal outdoor sculptures and domestic-scaled ceramics, and her celebrated mirrored environments. 

    • Invited to be the first woman artist to represent the Japanese Pavilion in the 1993 La Biennale di Venezia, Kusama chose to centralise the pumpkin, constructing a vast mirrored room in an immersive installation of black and yellow polka dots. More recently in London, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins was presented at Victoria Miro, before touring major institutions in the United States including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC and the Broad, Los Angeles, amongst others between 2017 and 2019. 

    i Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net, trans. Ralph McCarthy, London, 2011, p. 75. 
    ii Yayoi Kusama, quoted in ‘Yayoi Kusama by Grady T. Turner’, Bomb Magazine, 1 January 1999, online.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      ACJ Auction, Tokyo, 5 April 2008, lot 56
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Sotheby’s, Hong Kong, 5 October 2015, lot 830
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • 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

Property from a Distinguished Private European Collection



signed, titled and dated ‘Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin [in Japanese] 1989’ on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
45 x 38.5 cm (17 3/4 x 15 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1989, this work is registered as no. 0854 with the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

£700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for £1,135,700

Contact Specialist

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Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
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Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 14 October 2022