signed and dated 'yayoi Kusama 1998’, titled in Japanese (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
38 x 45.5 cm. (15 x 17 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1998
Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo, Japan
Acquired from the above by the present owner
This work is accompanied by the registration card issued by the artist’s studio

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Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay

Floating in the undulating, rhythmic waves, the endlessly repetitive polka dots form an arresting yellow pumpkin, standing out from the ethereal web matrix, which extends infinitely beyond the canvas. Intricate in detail, the swirling mass of polka dots increase and decrease accordingly, creating a sense of dynamic movement, while simultaneously providing a captivating visual contrast with the black and yellow palette. Painted in 1998, this iconic Pumpkin captures Yayoi Kusama’s signature colour, shape and pattern, encapsulating the artist’s embodiment of both obsessive complexity and meditative calm.

Kusama was trained under nihonga painting, a rigorous formal style originated during the Meiji period. In Pumpkin, the flattened colour and space are reminiscent of the Edo period ukiyo-e woodblock prints as well. Upbringing within a seeds-nursery family in a region surrounded by fields of kabocha, a Japanese pumpkin, Kusama first painted pumpkin in 1948, which later on became a fundamental, recurring motif throughout her entire career. “I was enchanted by their charming and winsome form. What appealed to me most was the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness. That and its solid spiritual balance” (Y. Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama , London, 2011, p. 76).

Kusama moved to New York in 1958 with the support of Georgia O’Keeffe, her first and greatest benefactor. Deeply intrigued to her unique language of modernism for the natural world, Kusama wrote a letter to O’Keeffe and she responded immediately with great kindness and generosity. Similar to the close-up and magnified flower in O’Keeffe’s paintings, Kusama’s pumpkin fills up the entire canvas, separating itself from the surrounding space and transmitting a timeless quality that both artists were able to turn their botanical illustration into personal expression, conveying an intimate sentiment and a meditative experience. Kusama began the Infinity Nets series soon after her arrival in New York, creating countless polka dots and nets, as she recalled: “One day in New York, when I was painting nets and dots all over a canvas without a composition, my brush unconsciously went beyond the bounds of the canvas and began to cover the table, then the floor, and all over the room with nets and dots.” (Y. Kusama, interview by Kim Seung-duk, 2002). In Pumpkin , extending the “all-over” painting style brought by Jackson Pollock, Kusama substituted the masculine gestural painting with a sophisticated feminine, yet powerful approach.

Painted in 1998, Pumpkin was created when Kusama reached a major milestone after 25 years returning to Japan for psychiatric treatment. The landmark solo show, Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958-1968, was exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1998, which subsequently traveled to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. In fact, from a very young age, Kusama has suffered severe visual hallucinations, including frightening images of proliferating dots, nets and plants, stemmed from her mental illness. Hallucination, at the same time, is the engine drove her to paint. Attempting to escape from the haunting visions, she creates infinite reiterations of dots and nets to confront, to control and to heal within her mind. As Alexandra Munroe wrote in the exhibition catalogue, “Kusama’s art certainly arise from her privileged if disturbed access to unconscious and possibly supernatural realms of being. But the creation of her art requires not only to surrender to madness but also to triumph over it; trauma must be substantially transformed before it can communicate to others as beauty and meaning” (A. Munroe, Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958-1968, Los Angeles, 1998, p. 81). In Pumpkin , form and space are synthesized in one, resembling to the spatial concept Lucio Fontana brought. Unlike the endless void behind each hole Fontana created, Kusama’s round, saturated polka dots represent the energy of the world that myriads repetitive dots float boundlessly in the space, conveying the dazzling cosmic infinity.

To Kusama, Pumpkin is a form of self-portrait with spiritual kinship. She would forget everything else and concentrating her mind entirely on the canvas: “I adore pumpkins. As my spiritual home since childhood, and with their infinite spirituality, they contribute to the peace of mankind across the world and to the celebration of humanity. And by doing so they make me feel at peace. Pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind…Giving off an aura of my sacred mental state, they embody a base for the joy of living; a living shared by all humankind on the earth. It is for the pumpkins that I keep on going.” (Y. Kusama, reciting On Pumpkins, London, 2014).

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