Overview

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YAYOI KUSAMA (JAPAN, B. 1929)
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
YAYOI KUSAMA (JAPAN, B. 1929)

Pumpkin

Details
YAYOI KUSAMA (JAPAN, B. 1929)
Pumpkin
signed ‘YAYOI KUSAMA’ and dated ‘2007’ (on the side)
painted fiberglass-reinforced plastic sculpture
110 (H) x 120 x 120 cm. (43 1/4 x 47 1/4 x 47 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2007
Provenance
MOMA Contemporary, Fukuoka, Japan
Private Collection, Asia
Anon. Sale, Christie’s Hong Kong, 27 May 2012, Lot 2409
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
The work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist’s studio

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Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay

“I put my whole life on dots and wanted to rebel against history.”
- Yayoi Kusama

Within Yayoi Kusama’s rich and colourful oeuvre, pumpkins can be considered as one of her most iconic subject matter in her artistic career. In 2017, her personal museum opened in Tokyo, Japan with much fanfare, and the open air Pumpkin sculpture was one of the highlights of the museum. As early as 1940s - 50s when she was a student, Kusama began painting pumpkins in the traditional Japanese style of Nihonga . A few decades later in the early 1980s, she revived the subject matter of pumpkin and injected it with repetitive motifs. Pumpkins were densely covered with nets, polka dots, and other abstract elements — this treatment created an unprecedented visual impact. Using this two dimensional treatment as a foundation, the artist further developed it into three dimensional sculptures of pumpkins by using a multitude of media. In Pumpkin offered in this auction, the artist uses her most iconic yellow as the base hue. Rows and rows of undulating black dots delineate the plumpness in the form of the pumpkin.

SELF-OBLITERATION AS THERAPY FOR HALLUCINATION
This repetitive, infinitely sprawling, and overpowering visual impact originated from Kusama’s experience with hallucination. Without warning, she would start to see dots, nets, and various other patterns engulfing everything around her. Art was her sole lifeline — only by repeatedly painting until the entire canvas was covered was Kusama able to nullify the hallucinations. This extraordinary visual experience inspired her to develop a visual language that is truly unique in which she can self-obliterate through art. By introducing the dots that appeared in her hallucination into reality, she was able to integrate herself into the pumpkins. And by repeatedly painting them, she could return to a state of mental balance. Kusama’s artistic practice of obsessively painting repetitive and organic elements that she saw in her world of visual hallucination had changed her life. How does it change the viewers’ worldview, though?

SYMBOLS THAT TRANSCEND OBJECTS
Kusama’s pumpkins can be compared to Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans. They are both quotidian objects that are transformed into well-known art works. Kusama’s encounter with pumpkins started when she was in elementary school — her grandfather had a pumpkin patch where these adorable and supple squashes grew. Warhol started having Campbell’s soup since he was young, and it had been a part of his lunch for over twenty years. “Pushing away the bushes of zinnia, I reached in and pulled a pumpkin from its stalk. It was in this moment the pumpkin came alive and began talking to me. The freshly-picked pumpkin was covered with dew. As it glistened in the sunlight, its gorgeousness was indescribable.”

When Kusama paints the pumpkin, she is not only painting just the squash. What she is representing transcends the object itself — it is in fact a kind of ideology that she is trying to represent. Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans uses an element from popular culture as the subject matter. This work paved the way for pop art to become a mainstream art movement. As a good friend of Warhol, Kusama once joked that his later works were inspired by her 1963 installation One Thousand Boats Show. Pumpkin , on the other hand, is a distillation of her attitude towards art as well as an exploration in her identity and past experiences. It is a naked display of her internal struggles that also provided her with a sense of relief.

EVERY DOT A NEW WORLD
Artists who can stand the test of time are those who invent new ways of expressions that gift the world with new inspirations and sometimes even new ways of seeing that break away from traditions. Kusama took her visual hallucination experience that was discordant, irrational, and illogical and transformed it into a new system of aesthetic language. In 1959, she held her first solo exhibition at Brata Gallery, and Infinity Net was the series that put her name on the map in the New York art world. Be they circular net patterns, dots of varying sizes, triangular nets, or sinuous organic lines, Kusama always elevates them from being merely an exercise in repetition. She coordinates these different elements according to their sizes, colours, and placements to achieve an optimal interplay between positive and negative space as well as creating a three-dimensional effect. Her paintings of pumpkins, birds and foliage, different kinds of beverages, and landscapes all embody these principles. She even covered her entire body with dots as performance art. This concept extends to the realm of fashion design. Pumpkin is not a territory that is exclusive to the artist. What it implies is that anyone can discover their own unique motifs and create a fascinating world of their own.

PREEMINENCE IN THE ART WORLD
In 1993, Kusama represented Japan in the Venice Biennale. The work that she showed, Mirror Room (Pumpkins), was composed of multiple pumpkin sculptures. The visual space inside the mirror room infinitely expands. As such, the pumpkins inside the room are also infinitely multiplied. A illusionary space that was without end was thus created. This installation was later adapted into the format of sculptures. The work Pumpkin offered in this sale is an extension of that particular installation shown at the Venice Biennale. It echoes Kusama’s philosophy on the tangible and intangible relationship between object and space. Kusama’s pumpkins are widely collected by museums around the world. Her outdoor pumpkin sculptures are also loved by the public. They can be seen at Naoshima, Japan, Hirshorn Museum, United State, and Forever Museum of Contemporary Art in Kyoto, Japan.

Yayoi Kusama’s intentions are always pure and direct. Her works emanate a powerful surge of vitality. She reminisces that during the days of mental anguish in the past, she was always able to seek solace in pumpkins. Kusama’s works invariably encourage the viewers to unburden themselves and bravely confront their fears. Even though she acknowledges that an individual is very small, we can always appreciate our own uniqueness.

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