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Starry Pumpkin

Starry Pumpkin
signed, titled, dated and inscribed ‘Starry Pumpkin Yayoi Kusama 2017 PT 011’ (inside the sculpture)
fiberglass-reinforced plastic and tile sculpture
183 (H) x 195 x 195 cm. (72 x 76 3/4 x 76 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2017
Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo, Japan
Private Collection, Asia
Whitestone Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
Private Collection, Asia
Kamel Mennour, Paris, France
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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Please note that lot 60 has updated signature details and provenance. Please visit our Christie’s Website for more information.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

“It started from hallucination” Yayoi, 1975 (quoted in Yayoi Kusama, Phaidon Press Inc., 2017, p.115)

On 10 April, 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues its grip and hardly an obvious time to unveil a blockbuster exhibition, New York Botanical Garden opened ‘Cosmic Nature’ on its sprawling 250 acre grounds, dedicated to Yayoi Kusama’s lifelong preoccupation with the natural world. Despite limited visitor numbers due to social-distancing controls and travel restrictions, the exhibition quickly became one of the most talked-about cultural events of the year. Images of the show – such as “Dancing Pumpkin” (2020), an exuberant 5-meter-tall yellow octopus with black spots, and “Starry Pumpkin” (2015, pictured) a radiant golden and red gourd housed in a conservatory amidst flora and fauna – filled the media, both traditional and social. This outpour of excitement and admiration for the exhibition underscores the enduring appeal of Kusama, her delirious portrayal of hallucinatory experiences all the more relatable during these trying times.

Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, Japan. She grew up in a family that made its living from harvesting seeds, and has been captivated by the pumpkin from a young age. In her autobiography, she writes: “What appealed to me most was the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness. That and its solid spiritual balance.” In 1958, at the age of 29, she moved alone to New York, and immersed herself in the city’s post-war cultural scene, quickly establishing a reputation for her controversial performances and Infinity Nets, paintings of dense interlocking loops with no beginning and no end. By the early 1970s, Kusama returned to Japan, and went through an intense period of depression, retreating to a specialist medical facility. It was during this period that she found solace and comfort in painting pumpkins, creating endless colorful iterations of the spotted fruit. Today, the pumpkin has achieved an almost mythical status in Kusama’s oeuvre, and stands – in many ways – as the artist’s alter ego.

Painted in 2013, A-PUMPKIN SKLO, is a dazzling example of Kusama’s mature pumpkin painting. The work pulsates with the intensity of the artist’s focus as she paints dot after dot in precisely controlled rows. Despite using only two colors – yellow and black, she produces an illusion of depth and shadow by placing larger dots on the ridges and smaller dots on the creases. The pattern repeats and repeats, echoing the artist’s use of mirrors in her installations, as well as her lifelong obsession with patterns and repetitions. The pumpkin is situated on a web of tasseled yellow nets on a black background, evoking overlapping waves or fields of leaves, a stylized take on the artist’s iconic Infinity Nets. Blurring the boundaries between representation and abstraction, A-PUMPKIN SKLO allows viewers to peek into Kusama’s unique and complex mindscape.

Starry Pumpkin is one of Kusama’s more recent creations, a 2-meter tall sculpture whose surface is composed of a shimmering mosaic of blue and white squares. Neatly lined in parallel rows, the iridescent blue tiles sparkle and gleam, their colors fluctuating between shades of violet, emerald, and indigo according to the light. Kusama’s signature polka dots are expressed here in white orbs of varying sizes, the tiles laid in concentric circles, forming vortexes that draw the viewers into the artist’s cosmic universe. The effect is akin to the shimmering night sky, dotted with moons and planets, near and far. The present work makes an enchanting counterpoint to the yellow and red version at the New York Botanical Garden: the blue pumpkin represents the yin to the yellow one’s yang, the Venus to its Mars, the night to its day.

While A-PUMPKIN SKLO and Starry Pumpkin are both expressions of Kusama’s fascination with the pumpkin and her perpetual obsession with cosmic infinity, the two works take on vastly different forms, reflecting the wide-raging spectrum of her practice. Few artists today have reached the same exalted status in international art circles as well as popular culture as Yayoi Kusama – that she is from Asia, and a woman, who started her career in the mid-twentieth century, makes her achievements all the more remarkable.

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