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Yayoi Kusama (B. 1929)
Yayoi Kusama (B. 1929)
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Yayoi Kusama (B. 1929)


Yayoi Kusama (B. 1929)
signed, titled and dated 'A-PUMPKIN-SPW YAYOI KUSAMA 2014' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
44 1/8 x 57 ¼ in. (112 x 145.5 cm.)
Painted in 2014.
Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo
Private collection, Asia
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Post Lot Text
Please note this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the Yayoi Kusama Studio.

Brought to you by

Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis Post-War and Contemporary Art

Lot Essay

Yayoi Kusama’s A-PUMPKIN-SPW is a rare example of her work that combines two of her most iconic subjects: polka dotted pumpkins and an intricate web of tessellated nets. Blurring the boundaries between figuration and abstraction, Kusama’s carefully executed polka dot pattern depicts the mottled surface of the pumpkin, which is in turn set against the fine tracery of her famous Infinity Nets. In parallel to seventeenth century depictions of Pronkstilleven (ornate still life paintings originated in the Dutch Golden Age), Kusama has successfully elevated this age-old genre by integrating pop aesthetics, just as Andy Warhol did with his Campbell’s soup can or Coca- Cola bottles. The artist’s ability to skillfully transcend genres and to have produced a prodigious body of work over the past six decades makes her one of the most celebrated artists working today.

Kusama’s life-long fascination with pumpkins began at a young age. Growing up in Matsumoto in central Japan, her family were affluent farm merchants who owned a seed farm and plant nursery. While her upbringing consists of being surrounded by abundant flora and fauna, her fond memories for pumpkins in particular left a strong impression on her, even describing the fruit as lovable - “Pumpkins are lovable, and their wonderfully wild and humorous atmosphere, never cease to capture the hearts of people. I adore pumpkins.” (Y. Kusama, ‘On Pumpkins’, 2010). “such tender things to touch, so appealing in colour and form”. The initial appearance of the motif can be traced back to the artist’s practice at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in the late 1940s. “During my time in Kyoto I diligently painted pumpkins”, wrote the artist, “which in later years would become an important theme in my art” (Kusama Yayoi, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, trans. Ralph McCarthy, Tate Publishing, 2011, p. 75). Kusama’s early pumpkins were painted in nihonga style, a rigorous formal painting technique originated during the Meiji period. In a similar manner, the juxtaposition of space and flattened color in the present example are also reminiscent of the Edo period ukiyo-e woodblock prints, a nod to the artist’s Japanese background.

With the support of the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, Kusama moved to New York in 1958. Deeply inspired by the vibrant Pop Art scene in New York City, she began to produce a body of work that encompassed painting, body art, immersive rooms, and the participatory performances known as ‘Happenings.’ Most notably, she also began her now iconic Infinity Nets paintings within eighteen months of her arrival. After meeting Andy Warhol, she also began to incorporate American pop symbols into her work, and following her Infinity Nets debut, she experimented further with readymade materials by covering her canvases with found objects such as dollar bills and air mail stickers. These Accumulation works are recognized as part of her ongoing concept of repetition and self-obliteration, of which A-PUMPKIN-SPW is a contemporary example of the ideas that have sustained her for over 60 years.

In Kusama’s visual rhetoric, the pumpkin becomes an intimate self-portrait. Suffering hallucinations from a young age, the artist would experience animated conversations with these fruits. In response, Kusama refigured these experiences into artistic impulses, allowing viewers to peek into her unique mindscape. As Alexandra Munroe writes, Kusama’s art requires her “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” (Alexandra Munroe, ‘Between Heaven and earth: The Literary Art of Yayoi Kusama’, in Exh. Cat. Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958-1968, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1998, p. 81). Despite her success, Kusama withdrew herself from the world, and retreated to a specialist medical facility in Japan in 1977. It was here that she began to revisit the theme of pumpkins again – an imagery that provided her with solitude and comfort. By combining two of her central motifs, she channels powerful forces within her psyche. In A-PUMPKIN-SPW, Kusama paints in acrylic, its quick drying properties a perfect match for the artist’s trance-like application of the loops and swirls to the surface of the canvas. Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkins and polka dots have become synonymous with her, and stand—in many ways— as her alter ego. Kusama remains one of the most recognizable and popular artists working today, and her paintings and installations continue to attract thousands of visitors to museums and galleries around the world.

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