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Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)
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Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)

Coffee Cup

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)
Coffee Cup
signed, titled in Japanese and dated 'YAYOI KUSAMA 1991' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
35 7/8 x 28 ½in. (91 x 72.5cm.)
Painted in 1991
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Poly International Auction Co. Ltd, 4 December 2008, lot 235.
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Borobudur Fine Art auction Pte. Ltd Singapore, 24 January 2015, lot 56.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
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Post lot text
The work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Lot Essay

'The entire canvas would be occupied by monochromatic net. This endless repetition caused a kind of dizzy, empty, hypnotic feeling. (…) My net grew beyond myself and beyond the canvas I was covering with them. They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the centre of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me.’ YAYOI KUSAMA

In Yayoi Kusama’s Coffee Cup, a rhythmic ensemble of shapes, textures and patterns form a breathtakingly intricate illustration of a universally familiar, domestically comforting object. Executed at the pinnacle of Kusama’s career, this monochrome, acrylic work represents an artistic mastering of an iconic and individualised style. The painstaking application of each bubbling polka-dot (Kusama’s signature patterned shape), in a seemingly infinitesimal range of sizes, establishes a spectacular sense of pictorial space. Employing a congested tempo of dots to distinguish light from shadow, the cup not only possesses a three-dimensionality in flat graphic form, but appears to animatedly exist as biomorphic organism, pulsating against a background resembling Kusama’s Infinity paintings. This astonishing level of detail is furthered by the effervescing circles enclosed in the cup’s handle and accompanying spoon, bestowing upon the objects a graceful delicacy that seems almost physically tangible. Returning to Japan from New York in 1973, Kusama hermitically enclosed herself off from the art world until the 1980s, when she re-emerged with new admirers, supporters and a fresh approach to painting. Rejecting the gestural, expressive medium of oil paint in favour of acrylic, Kusama injected her works with a personally unprecedented graphic intricacy, in turn manifesting a sensual and seductive construction of biomorphic plasticity. Whilst Kusama had been painting coffee cups throughout her welcomed revival in Japan during the 1970s and 80s, in the present work there is a newfound graphic depth, accomplished by a masterful design executed using acrylic paint, and demonstrated in this instance by the detailed organic globularity of the object, which seems almost to come to life on the canvas.

This pictorial transformation of the object, from inanimate to animate, has been characterised by Kusama’s personal experience. From a very young age, Kusama has experienced visual hallucinations and obsessional neurosis that has informed her stylistic and representational decisions. From her earlier ‘accumulations’, which vitalised pieces of furniture as organic substance with phallic protuberances, to the complex multi-panelled patterns of her recent work, Kusama’s paintings, sculptures, collages and installations create worlds of biological growth and expansion. The repetitious saturation of her polka dots brilliantly complements her library of subjects, bringing life to inorganic objects, causing them to psychedelically move or breathe. Coffee Cup, for instance, seems almost to shed its ceramic surroundings in favour of foregrounding its hot, radiant, liquefied mass. Simultaneously, these works revel in a two-dimensional, graphic flatness akin to contemporary Japanese graphic design. Tracking the stylistic and thematic changes in Kusama’s art for a major retrospective at Tate Modern, Frances Morris noted that this late style emblematised Kusama’s ability to adjust to changing visual vocabularies. ‘This fantasy style’, Morris writes, ‘evolved in the post-war era as part of the explosion of ‘manga’ and ‘anime’ comic-book art, and Kusama’s appropriation of its essence demonstrates again her continuing ability to keep pace with, exploit and reconcile seemingly opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, even as she enters her eighties’ (F. Morris, ‘Introduction’, in Yayoi Kusama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2012, p. 14). This enduring relevance is effectively summarised by Coffee Cup, in which Kusama transforms a simple vessel for a popular drink into a fantastical organism of invigorated life in graphic form.

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