signed, titled in Japanese and dated ‘YAYOI KUSAMA 1992’ (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
6 ¼ x 9in. (15.8 x 22.7cm.)
Painted in 1992
Private Collection.
Anon. sale, Ravenel Taipei, 6 December 2009, lot 211.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Further details
This work is accompanied by a registration card issued by Yayoi Kusama Inc.

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Anna Touzin Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Executed in 1992, a year before she was selected to represent Japan in the Venice Biennale, Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin is a vibrant depiction of her much beloved and career-defining subject. Rendered in her signature, two-tone colour palette of brilliant yellow and black, the ornate fruit gleams with dazzling streams of polka dots. Dilating and contracting in size, the spots are gradated to evoke a mesmeric play of light and shadow across its plump, distinctive furrows, creating a vivid sculptural dimensionality within the painting. In a hypnotic spectacle of pattern that blurs the abstract with the figurative, the pumpkin seems to shimmer, undulate, and intensify before the eye. Just as the Campbell’s soup can became a trademark for Andy Warhol in the 1960s, the pumpkin has become something of a metonym for Kusama. Instantly recognisable, it is a deeply personal motif: ‘Giving off an aura of my sacred mental state’, she has said, ‘they embody a base for the joy of living, a living shared by all of humankind on the earth. It is for the pumpkins that I keep on going’ (Y. Kusama, ‘On Pumpkins’, 2010).

Kusama’s fascination with the subject dates to her childhood, when, visiting her grandparents’ plant nursery, she became transfixed by a pumpkin the size of a man’s head. Inspired by the strangely anthropomorphic quality of these fruits—their corporeal, bulbous, and fleshy forms—she has stated: ‘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). Though subsequently winning a local art prize for an early painted study of a pumpkin, she did not return to the subject until her return to Japan in 1973 after sixteen years in the US. Weaving together threads of memory, childhood, and nostalgia, the present work is one of many unique iterations of the pumpkin executed over the ensuing decades, spanning across painting, sculpture and installation. Kusama exhibited her first Mirror Room (Pumpkin) (1991) at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993.

Kusama’s widely-recognised polka dot pattern is inspired by the vibrant and unusual perceptual effects of the hallucinations she has suffered since childhood. Transforming her mundane subject, with its oblong shape and thick woody stem, into an extraordinary visual phantasm, Kusama’s painting exemplifies her profound ability to blur the surreal and the everyday. Believing in the transcendent and creative origins of the polka dot, Kusama has reflected: ‘Our earth is only one polka dot among millions of others … We must forget ourselves with polka dots. We must love ourselves in the ever-advancing stream of eternity’ (Y. Kusama, quoted in L. Hoptman et al., Yayoi Kusama, London 2001, p. 103). Energetic, sprawling and obsessive, the spotted pattern of the present painting evokes the iconic halftone and Ben-Day dots of Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop paintings, while the tessellated background forms visual parallels with the intricate webs of Kusama’s own ‘Infinity Nets’. Fusing together her enduring artistic interests in one canvas, Pumpkin is a spectacular vision of pulsating form and chromatic intensity.

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