Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 13, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "Since my childhood, I was always painting dots, when I see them, my eyes get brighter, and I am always moved"
    —Yayoi Kusama 
    Woman of Reminiscence, executed in 1979, marks an important stage and poignant change of course in Yayoi Kusama’s life. In 1958, Kusama moved from Japan to New York city, excited and enticed by the capital’s vibrant art scene. Years later, depressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted, Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 where she faced an initially hostile audience. To the conservative Japanese public, her work was scandalous and out of place within the current Japanese avant-garde. Struggling with mental illness induced by childhood trauma, in 1977 Kusama checked herself in to the private psychiatric facility where she still lives. Within the safe walls of the psychiatric establishment, Kusama not only received treatment and found stability, but was also able to find a permanent studio nearby.

    "My work is based on developing my psychological problems into art. Obsession, accumulation is the result of my obsession, and that psychology is the main theme of my art." 
    —Yayoi Kusama
    As such, the period between the mid to late 1970s and early 1980s was a pivotal moment in Kusama’s personal life, which is directly linked to her artistic output. In Woman of Reminiscence, Yayoi Kusama presents the viewer with a beautifully bold and eccentric female portrait. Remaining true to her unique aesthetic, she incorporates the use of repetitive dots and infinity nets in a variety of colours and sizes. The work could be understood as a self-portrait, a vehicle for Kusama to express her inner world of emotions and frustrations. The frenetic mark making is linked to the childhood trauma of seeing her father’s adultery and her mother’s resultant anger. Repetitive patterns are a subconscious and psychosomatic affect: once something enters her mind, she cannot get rid of it.

    The protagonist of the painting not only meets the viewers gaze, but stares back at them, one eye bulgingly and relentlessly fixed. The myriad of psychedelic colours - bright lime greens, reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and pinks, create an almost vibrating surface, alive with movement. In this work Kusama’s delicate mental state is loudly apparent: her technique of working directly onto the paper, without the use of drafts or sketches immediately transmits a reflection of her mind. Under close inspection, we are able to see faint uneven lines coming through the red and pink dots of the skin, starting from under the eye and moving all the way down her face to the jawline. These lines in combination with the different tones used to depict the skin almost resemble scars, in other worlds a representation of all the experiences this figure has lived through, building the character and resilience that make her.


    Yayoi Kusama, Self-Portrait, 2008, Tate. Image: © YAYOI KUSAMA

    Woman of Reminiscence, executed only a few years after the artist made the move back to Japan, was produced at a time of uncertainty in her life. However, between the use of bold colours and subject matter, we can also see that Kusama managed to take control of her difficulties and remain consistent within her artistic path. Throughout her life Kusama has suffered a great deal, nonetheless she has continuously maintained a powerful level of perseverance. Harnessing her fears, which at times developed as visual or auditory hallucinations, Kusama transforms them into her paintings. Her work transcends boundaries and can be considered as one of the most successful living artists.
    "I consider myself a heretic of the art world. I think only of myself when I make my artwork. Affected by the obsession that has been lodged in my body..."
    —Yayoi Kusama
     Yayoi Kusama has been widely celebrated with global solo exhibitions, most recently at Tate Modern, London with Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Rooms (2021 – 2022) and Yayoi Kusama: Narcissus Garden at the Rubell Museum in Miami (18 November 2020 – 12 December 2021). Her works form part of museum collections throughout the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.


    Yayoi Kusama - Obsessed with Polka Dots | Tate

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Japan
      Est-Quest Auctions, Hong Kong, 27 May 2018, lot 101
      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 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


Woman of Reminiscence

signed and dated 'YAYOI KUSAMA 1979' upper right; signed, titled and dated 'Yayoi Kusama Woman of Reminiscence [in Japanese] 1979' on the reverse
watercolour, gouache and acrylic on paper
65.5 x 51.5 cm (25 3/4 x 20 1/4 in.)
Executed in 1979, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by Yayoi Kusama Studio and is registered as no. 0917.

Full Cataloguing

£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £315,000

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey

Specialist, Associate Director, Head of Day Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+44 20 7318 4084


20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 13 October 2022