"Pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind … 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" – Yayoi Kusama
Bringing together Yayoi Kusama’s most iconic subjects – pumpkins, dots, mirrors and the notion of infinity – the present work belongs to a series of uniquely coloured aluminium sculptures entitled Reach Up to the Universe. Formerly held in the Titze Collection in Vienna, its polished, reflective surface is perforated by holes that reveal a glowing orange interior, crowned by a yellow stem. Notable within the series for its two-toned palette, the work dates from 2010, marking the culmination of a triumphant decade that saw Kusama take her place on the international stage. Awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale prize in 2006, as well as a string of major retrospectives across the world, the artist continued to hone her creative vision, developing and synthesising motifs that had fuelled her practice over the course of more than half a century. The present work’s title not only invokes the notion of cosmic sublimation that lies at the heart of her oeuvre, but also chimes poetically with her own rising star during this period. Here, her alter-ego – the pumpkin – transcends its solid, earthbound form, reborn in a shimmering blaze of light, colour and illusion.
Kusama’s fascination with pumpkins may be traced back to her childhood in Japan, where her family ran a wholesale business. Amid the rationing and privations of the Second World War, they harvested the fruits in abundance. ‘The first time I ever saw a pumpkin’, recalls Kusama, ‘was when I was in elementary school and went with my grandfather to visit a big seedharvesting 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’ (Y. Kusama, quoted in Infinity Net, London 2011, p. 75). Over the years, such hallucinations would intensify, leading the artist to conceive the pumpkin as an extension of her own being. With its ‘humorous form, warm feeling and human-like quality’, the fruit came to assume an almost anthropomorphic presence in her work, featuring in paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures. Her celebrated 1991 installation Mirror Room (Pumpkin) – famously shown at the Venice Biennale two years later – conjured a vast field of pumpkins, infinitely multiplied within a reflective chamber.
The present work may be seen to extend the spirit of this installation, combining the pumpkin’s grounded, organic form with hallucinatory devices that seek to destabilise it. Here, mirrored surfaces are incorporated into the body of the fruit itself, refracting the vivid hollow interior of the work and beaming it into the surrounding space. The work also makes reference to the artist’s signature dot motif, which – like the pumpkin – represents a further extension of her childhood psychoses. As a young girl, she was plagued by visions of dots engulfing her surroundings, giving rise to the seminal series of Infinity Nets begun during her early days in 1950s New York. Gradually, the dots began to consume her output, offering rhythmic peace and solace as she sunk deeper into her interior world. While the artist had frequently incorporated these patterns into her pumpkins, the present work goes one stage further, translating the dots into actual holes that allow light to funnel through the body of the work. Forged at the pinnacle of her career, the result is a lyrical summation of Kusama’s artistic universe. The pumpkin, no longer confined to the earth, takes flight into the unknown dimensions of infinity.