Considered one of the world’s most influential artists, Yayoi Kusama’s work is collected and exhibited in prestigious museums and her work is highly appreciated by the public. In 2017, she opened her own museum in Tokyo, substantially contributing to her popularity.

Yayoi Kusama is now a favorite from the auction blocks, she joined the TOP 10 Most Sold Artists in 2021 with auction revenues totaling USD 178,196,157 million with 778 lots sold.

Turnover: USD 178,196,157
Geography: HK (36%), South Korea (19%), Japan (17%), US (12%)
Medium: Painting (70%), Sculpture (17%)
Price: above 5M (12%), above 1M (70%)

 

In 2022, the strong appetite for Kusama’s artworks in the market resulted in a substantial price increase for her most sought-after series: Pumpkins and Infinity Nets. This article highlights some of the artist’s most important paintings and sculptures sold since January 2021.

 

1. Pumpkins Paintings


 

Pumpkins are Yayoi Kusama’s works that sell the most at auction. As of 15 November 2022, no less than 29 Pumpkins paintings sold for a total auction turnover of around 28.2 million. 2021 was a record year with 23 Pumpkins sold at auction generating close to USD 43 million.

 

YTD 2022 Auction Results
29 Pumpkins
USD 28,208,486


2021 Auction Results
23 Pumpkins
USD 42,924,724

 

 

1.1/ 2022 Auction Highlights


 

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin, 1989
Acrylic on canvas
45 x 38.5 cm (17.7 x 15.1 inches)
Phillips London: 14 October 2022
GBP 1,135,700 / USD 1,283,524

 

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin A, B, C, 2003
Acrylic on canvas
5 1/2 x 7 1/8 inches (14×18 cm)
Estimated: GBP 250,000 – 350,000
GBP 453,600 / USD 512,641

Painted in 2003, Pumpkin A, B, C, is a joyful example of Yayoi Kusama’s most beloved image. Rendered in crimson and white, the fruit swells outward, ripe and weighty; across its protuberant, voluminous flesh, Kusama has dotted a seemingly infinite number of immaculate red circles. The artist’s fascination with pumpkins began when she was a child in Matsumoto, Japan. Her parents owned a seed farm and nursery, and she spent much of her upbringing playing amongst the lush vegetation.

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin, 2000
Acrylic on canvas laid on panela
37.9 x 45.2 cm (14.9 x 17.7 inches)
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 6 October 2022
HKD 15,379,000 / USD 1,959,208

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin, 2004
Acrylic on canvas
53 x 45.5 cm (20.9 x 17.9 inches)
Seoul Auction: 26 September 2022
KRW 2,301,000,000 / USD 1,608,399
(HAMMER)

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin, 2004
Acrylic on canvas
53 x 45.5 cm (20.9 x 17.9 inches)
Seoul Auction: 22 August 2022
KRW 2,596,000,000 / USD 1,931,424
(HAMMER)

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin
, 1995
Acrylic on canvas
31.8 x 41 cm (12.5 x 16.1 inches)
Signed and dated ‘Yayoi Kusama 1995’, titled in Japanese (on the reverse)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 26 May 2022
HKD 20,850,000 / USD 2,656,220

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin, 1989
Acrylic on canvas
18.4 x 14.3 cm (7.2 x 5.6 inches)
Christie’s New-York: 12 May 2022
USD 529,200

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin
, 1990 
Acrylic on canvas
72.5 x 60.5 cm (28.5 x 23.9 inches)
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 27 April 2022
HKD 30,625,000 / USD 3,902,864

Executed in 1990, Pumpkin is a spellbinding, flawlessly executed archetype from Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre – a testament to her astonishing dedication to creation, technique, and a singular artistic vision. Full and symmetrical, the pumpkin of the present work is a splendid example of her most favored motif. In the background, Kusama’s all-over scaled tessellations – an iconic iteration of the artist’s most distinctive infinity net motif employed often within her pumpkin paintings – are so tightly and dexterously woven that the canvas hums with the rhythmic intensity of the pattern. The pumpkin itself, anthropomorphic and brilliantly luminous, presents the legendary artist at the height of her powers: each gleaming circle shimmers and vibrates; each meticulously crafted row of multi-striated dots throbs and slithers fluidly down the body of the gourd.

One of the most recognizable icons in contemporary art today, Kusama’s pumpkin is deeply central to the artist’s psyche, and its origins within her art can be traced back to her most early years.  Kusama recalls having consumed the vegetable endlessly to the point of nausea in her childhood years during and after the war; in spite of this, she retains a fond attachment to its organic bulbous form, describing it as embodying a “generous unpretentiousness” and “solid spiritual balance.” Already experiencing hallucinations at the time, involving pumpkins that spoke to her in a most animated manner, Kusama found the gourd a benign and nurturing subject – as opposed to the more traumatic and menacing feelings she associates with flowers, plants and objects that plagued her throughout her life.

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin [TOWSSO], 2006
Acrylic on canvas
22.3 x 27.4 cm (8.7 x 10.7 inches)
Christie’s London: 1 March 2022
GBP 831,600 / USD 1,111,616

 

1.2/ 2021 Auction Highlights


 

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin, 1989
Acrylic on canvas
38 x 45.5 cm (15 x 17.9 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 1 December 2021
HKD 11,290,000 / USD 1,448,661

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin, 1991
Acrylic on canvas
72.7 x 60.6 cm (28.6 x 23.9 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 1 December 2021
HKD 26,650,000 / USD 3,419,560

Painted in 1991, Pumpkin presents one of the most iconic motifs that is so dear to Yayoi Kusama’s heart in a rare cobalt green colour. Decorated with a myriad of dots against the contrasting infinity net background, the electric green, slender pumpkin stands solemnly at the centre of this work. Among the many whimsical, colorful variations of gourds and squashes in Kusama’s oeuvres, Pumpkin bears a special cultural reference to the artist’s roots. In Japanese, green (midori) is an auspicious color representing the energy of growth and vitality in its traditional culture, just as red is in its Chinese counterpart. Pumpkin from 1991 is also one of only three green pumpkins that have appeared in auction in the past three years.

Kusama’s obsession with pumpkins dates back to her childhood. The artist has since been captivated by the bulbous form after her visits to plant nurseries with her grandfather.

“I adore pumpkins. As my spiritual home since childhood, and with their infinite spirituality, they contribute to the peace of mankind across the world and to the celebration of humanity. And by doing so they make me feel at peace. Pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind. Pumpkins talk to me.”

 

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin (LPASG), 2013
Acrylic on canvas
130.3 x 130.3 cm (51.2 x 51.2 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 30 November 2021
HKD 62,540,000 / USD 8,026,799
NEW WORLD RECORD AT AUCTION

This year, the 92-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama opened not just one but two major shows: ‘Cosmic Nature,’ a sculpture and installation exhibition at New York Botanical Garden and ‘Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective,’ the artist’s first comprehensive retrospective in Germany at Gropius Bau, Berlin. Just as many other previous shows with visitors snaking in queues, the two soon became the favorite 2021 cultural events of many, underscoring the enduring appeal of the Japanese artist with her portrayal of hallucinatory experiences, particularly with the subject matter – pumpkin.

Pumpkin is a symbol of triumph in Kusama’s artistic career and life. Yayoi Kusama grew up in Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. She has been captivated by pumpkins since she was small at the seed harvesting farm of her family’s. In the early 1940s, the artist started experiencing hallucinations, and around the same time she started painting pumpkin. Looking for a breakthrough and unsupported by her family, Kusama embarked on a solo journey and moved across the Pacific Ocean to New York in 1958. She immersed herself in the city’s post-war cultural scene, quickly establishing a reputation in the new environment. Shortly within a year, she debuted her solo exhibition in the city and created a buzz in the art circle. Turning vulnerabilities into power, Kusama nullified the intense hallucinations she experienced by introducing them into her painterly reality and created these kaleidoscope patterns of dots and nets repeatedly. The iconic dotted pumpkin thus became a display of her internal struggles, in which she returned to a state of mental balance by creating endless colorful iterations of the spotted fruit. Today, the pumpkin has achieved an almost mythical status in Kusama’s oeuvre and stands as the artist’s alter ego.

YAYOI KUSAMA
Pumpkin
, 1992
Acrylic on canvas
45.5 x 53 cm (17.9 x 20.9 inches)
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 18 June 2021
HKD 26,795,000 / USD 3,451,718

YAYOI KUSAMA
A-PUMPKIN SKLO, 2013
Acrylic on canvas
130.3 x 162 cm (51.2 x 63.7 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 23 May 2021
HKD 50,650,000 / USD 6,522,775

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.

2. Pumpkins Sculptures


 

YAYOI KUSAMA
Starry Pumpkin Gold, 2014
Fiberglass-reinforced plastic and tile sculpture
185 (H) x 214 x 214 cm (72.9 x 84.2 x 84.2 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 25 May 2022
HKD 40,250,000

A monumental sculpture of radiating brilliance, Yayoi Kusama’s Starry Pumpkin Gold marks the height of the artist’s lifelong artistic pursuit. Standing at almost two meters tall, its immense presence and mesmerizing glimmer transform the fruit into a holy treasure, charging dynamism into its force field. Golden tiles and kaleidoscopic dots coat the artist’s most quintessential subject, channeling a blazing intensity and whimsical rhythm that distinguish Starry Pumpkin Gold from Kusama’s other pumpkin iterations. It is indeed a magnificent work of museum caliber and extreme scarcity—the third glittering monumental pumpkin to ever be auctioned and one of the largest to have appeared so far.

A few iterations of Starry Pumpkin Gold have witnessed international fanfare in museums and exhibitions worldwide. In 2021, the New York Botanical Garden hosted ‘Kusama: Cosmic Nature’, a large-scale sculpture and installation exhibition dedicated to Kusama’s fascination with nature. Its centerpiece—a golden mosaic pumpkin featuring red dots—prominently sat amongst blooming daffodils, flaunting Kusama’s characteristic flair. In Tokyo, the Yayoi Kusama Museum’s Starry Pumpkin with pink tiles overlooks the cityscape. The sculpture’s saturated colors establish an alternative reality but at the same time, echoes the city’s vibrancy. Kusama’s mosaic pumpkin sculptures are the most venerated museum-caliber works, witnesses to the artist’s exhaustive craftsmanship and legendary vision. The larger-than-life pillar is a creation of utmost rarity, with only two mosaic pumpkins previously appearing in auction.

 

YAYOI KUSAMA
Starry Pumpkin, 2017
Fiberglass-reinforced plastic and tile sculpture
183 (H) x 195 x 195 cm (72 x 76.7 x 76.7 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 23 May 2021
HKD 21,850,000

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, Dancing Pumpkin, New-York Botanical Garden

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.

 

3. Infinity Nets


YTD 2022 Auction Results
21 Infinity Nets
USD 45,939,378

 

2021 Auction Results
27 Infinity Nets
USD 53,703,705

 

3.1/ 2022 Auction Highlights


Infinity Nets (T.W.A), 2000
Acrylic on canvas
193.7 x 259.1 cm (76.2 x 102 inches)
Christie’s New-York: 10 November 2022
Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
USD 4,140,000

YAYOI KUSAMA
Infinity-Nets (KMNG), 2012
Acrylic on canvas
162×162 cm (63 3/4 x 63 3/4 inches)
Christie’s New-York: 10 November 2022
Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
USD 2,280,000

YAYOI KUSAMA
Infinity-Nets (QOTP)
, 2010
Acrylic on canvas
194×259 cm (76.7 x 102 inches)
Sotheby’s London: 14 October 2022
GBP 3,423,000 / USD 3,837,444

Infinity-Nets (QOTP) from 2010 is an ethereal, dynamic and imposing example from Yayoi Kusama’s most iconic and consequential series of paintings. Kusama’s radical and singular practice defies categorization, her visual semantics of infinity and repetition spanning painting, performance, video, sculpture and installation. Amongst this diverse body of work, however, it is the Infinity Nets that stand as the most important and enduring iteration of her ground-breaking artistic expression. Produced decades after the first iteration of the series, the white impasto lattice on the surface of the present work swells and ebbs across the picture plane. Here an expansive canvas ground delivers an immersive experience by which we are given a glimpse into Kusama’s fantastical and illusory mind-space. Infinity-Nets (QOTP) continues Kusama’s legendary series, employing the same repetitive and hypnotic mark-making that characterizes the very best of Kusama’s oeuvre.

YAYOI KUSAMA
INFINITY-NETS (UAFE), 2016
Acrylic on canvas
131.4 x 97.2 cm (51.7 x 38.2 inches)
Phillips London: 14 October 2022
GBP 990,500 / USD 1,110,426

Unfolding in undulating waves of brilliant emerald green, INFINITY-NETS (UAFE) is a stunning, unusual example of Yayoi Kusama’s iconic series. Painted in 2016, in the same year as the Japanese artist was awarded the prestigious Order of Culture by the Imperial Family, this mature work represents the culmination of Kusama’s life-long fascination with her signature repeating motif and the zenith of her incredible 70-year career. Created over half a century after her first Infinity Net painting, INFINITY-NETS (UAFE) emphasizes the privileged position that the series continues to occupy in Kusama’s pioneering practice, and its role developing a contemporary language of abstraction. Expansive, immersive, and beautifully delicate, the endlessly repeating and scalloped patterns of the present work resonate well beyond the limitations of the canvas, extending through her entire Infinity Net series out to her earliest soft sculptures, obliteration rooms, and provocative performances through to the mirrored environments and Infinity Rooms that are currently the subject of sell-out exhibitions worldwide.

YAYOI KUSAMA
GOLD-INFINITY-NETS, 2015
Acrylic on canvas
145.5 x 145.5 cm (51.7 x 38.2 inches)
China Guardian HK: 9 October 2022
HKD 48,630,000 / USD 6,191,141

YAYOI KUSAMA
Infinity-Nets (QPOW)
, 2006
Acrylic on canvas
91×73 cm (35.9 x 28.7 inches)
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 9 October 2022
HKD 9,750,000 / USD 1,203,745

Dancing with rhythmic motion, Infinity-Nets (QPOW), painted in 2006, is a testament to Yayoi Kusama’s captivating mastery of spatial abstraction from the artist’s most celebrated corpus of paintings. An archetypal example of Kusama’s iconic style of abstraction, which established her extraordinary position in art history, the present work consists of an endless maze of oscillating, kaleidoscopic patterns. The present work continues the legacy of Kusama’s iconic series of Infinity Nets that the artist began in 1958, employing the same repetitive and hypnotic mark-making that functions as the conceptual nexus of the artist’s obsession and unconscious, ultimately culminating in a canvas of heightened visual and psychological intensity. Although the artist was first affiliated with the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York, Kusama has defied categorization throughout her career. In Japan, her earliest work was considered Surrealist, while the 1960s brought group exhibitions alongside Pop artists and the European ZERO; indeed, the breadth of her practice has spanned performance, video, sculpture, installation, and even literature. Amongst this diverse body of work, however, it is the Infinity Nets that stand as the most iconic and enduring iteration of her ground-breaking practice. Created almost 50 years after she began this expansive series, Infinity Nets (QPOW) closely corresponds with the very first examples owing to its wonderful texture and exclusively white-monochromicity.

YAYOI KUSAMA
INFINITY NETS (BSGK)
, 2015
Acrylic on canvas
162×162 cm (63.8 x 63.8 inches)
Poly International Hong-Kong: 11 July 2022
USD 2,522,302

 

YAYOI KUSAMA
Uchu (Universe)
, 1994
Acrylic on canvas
91×73 cm (35.9 x 28.7 inches)
Sotheby’s London: 30 June 2022
GBP 1,003,000 / USD 1,219,601

Executed in 1994, Uchu (Space/Universe) forms part of Kusama’s most acclaimed body of work and her longest-running series, which she began after moving to New York in 1958. The series is instantly recognizable through Kusama’s repetitive curved brushstrokes, semicircular patterns and dichromatic palettes that mark a shift from the singular abstract biomorphic forms of her youth to a more obsessive, repetitive style which would come to define her oeuvre. Created through the intersection of two parallel picture planes, the works succeed in building a non-hierarchical, non-objective work motivated by compulsive tendencies. The series is both a manifestation and coping mechanism for her obsessive-compulsive disorder and hallucinatory visions brought on by her psychological state. Kusama struggled with visions of infinitely oscillating, kaleidoscopic patterns throughout her childhood in Japan, the memories of which she has described in her own words: “I was always standing at the centre of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me” (Yayoi Kusama quoted in: Laura Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, p. 103). It was not until her arrival in the United States, however, that Kusama found the means of channeling her psychosomatic visions and tendencies into the paintings that would form the beginning of the iconic Infinity Nets series. Working with a focus that is both obsessive and meditative, Kusama would move her brush across the canvas with precise, minute flicks of the wrist, carefully weaving the complex skein of overlapping loops to create an undulating pattern that calls to mind the simultaneously mesmerising and terrifying glimpse of infinity one experiences before a seemingly endless expanse of shimmering water.

 

YAYOI KUSAMA
Infinity-Nets (KGFZH), 2017
Acrylic on canvas
162×162 cm (63.7 x 63.7 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 25 May 2022
HKD 19,650,000 / USD 2,503,216

Infinity Nets (KGFZH) stands out with its ivory splendor as a rare exemple from Yayoi Kusama’s most iconic series. The unusual palette of this exceptional piece evokes her “White Infinity Nets” series which was first exhibited in New York in 1959 and signaled a new chapter in the artist’s long and illustrious career. Infinity Nets (KGFZH), appearing for the first time at Christie’s Evening Sale, was created during Kusama’s mature period. While this work witnesses her experimental and transformative process that has spanned over half a century, it is also precisely its consistency in leitmotif across the years that solidifies the unquestionable status of this painting as one of singular importance.

In Infinity Nets (KGFZH), Kusama weaves a labyrinthine web across the canvas. Intricately connected brushstrokes repeat themselves to create a mesmerising space that multiples with the dissonance of psychedelia. From the 1980s onwards, Kusama has shifted from oil to acrylic paint, a soluble medium that echoes her earlier experiment in the traditional medium of Nihonga. Through the artist’s careful orchestration that almost pertains to compulsion, the paint flows like ink on the surface to juxtapose with the thickly applied dots. The overall effect is one that creates a kaleidoscopic expression about its accentuated texture, but also releases a burst of energy fuelled with the most delicate of her emotions. Staying true to her idiosyncratic visual idioms, Kusama broke free from the confines of Extreme Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Under her hand, every single brushstroke of impasto works together to activate her modus operandi and to unlock its full potential that appeals to our senses of sight as well as touch. Ultimately, it is no exaggeration to say that this painting represents her most sincere pursuit of an eternal dream. All in all, Infinity Nets (KGFZH) stands not only for Kusama’s persistence in achieving technical excellence. It also is the culmination of her unmatched imagination within the avant-garde art world. Nowhere is this better manifested in its off-white infinity net that maps out an ever-expanding horizon—not only does it testify to the artist’s unrivalled creativity, it also symbolizes her quest for a timeless vision.

 

Untitled (Nets), 1959
Oil on canvas
130.8×116.5 cm (51.5×46 inches)
Phillips New-York: 18 May 2022
USD 10,496,000
NEW WORLD RECORD AT AUCTION

Painted in 1959, Yayoi Kusama’s Untitled (Nets) belongs to the artist’s most coveted and renowned early series of white Infinity Net paintings. Teetering between the singular and infinite, the canvas surface is veiled with an intricate lattice field of small arcs and loops that appears to gently pulse before the viewer’s eyes. Upon a closer look, smooth strokes yield to swells of impasto, their individual renderings infinitely multiplying with poetic gravitas.

Untitled (Nets) marks a pivotal moment in the history of post-war abstraction, reflecting the liminal space between the painterly lush of Abstract Expressionism and the reductive aesthetic of Minimalism in which Kusama established her originality within the avant-garde. Evincing the profound impact of Kusama’s early white Infinity Net paintings, many of the artist’s peers went onto acquire them for their personal collections including Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and—in the case of the present work—Uecker. In 1960, Kusama exhibited with Uecker in the seminal Monochrome Malerei show at the Städtisches Museum Schloss Morsbroich in Leverkusen (where she and Rothko were the only artists selected to represent America) and, in 1962, became the only female artist to participate in the highly acclaimed ZERO international group exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam alongside Uecker, Otto Piene, Lucio Fontana, and Pol Burry. With their hypnotic magnetism and accumulative buzz, Kusama’s early Infinity Nets find a close affinity with Uecker’s protruding-nail reliefs as their respective material elements appear to spiral and converge into infinite spatial realms.

 

 

Infinity-Nets (KYKEY), 2017
Acrylic on canvas
162×162 cm (62.7×62.7 inches)
Sotheby’s London: 2 March 2022
GBP 2,273,500 / USD 3,030,570

Pulsating and dancing with rhythmic motion, Infinity Nets (KYKEY) is testament to Yayoi Kusama’s captivating mastery of spatial abstraction from the artist’s most celebrated corpus of paintings. Exemplary of Kusama’s iconic style of abstraction, which established her extraordinary position in art history, the present work consists of an endless maze of oscillating, kaleidoscopic patterns that are made up of intricately undulating white lines atop an electrifying black ground. Executed in 2017, the present work continues the legacy of Kusama’s iconic series of Infinity Nets, employing the same repetitive and hypnotic mark-making that functions as the conceptual nexus of the artist’s obsession and unconscious, ultimately culminating in a canvas of peak visual and psychological intensity.

In Infinity Nets (KYKEY), Kusama’s restricted palette imparts a sense of ethereality onto the canvas; the work is vaporous, texturally anomalous and full of reflected light. The artist’s labyrinthine web of mesmeric pigment loops display irrepressible force, drawing the viewer irresistibly towards the shimmering spaces contained within the tightly woven blanket of paint. The undulating, almost topographical surface of the work hypnotically meanders across the extent of the picture plane, mirroring the process in which it is created. Kusama’s innumerable brushstrokes pile onto one another, culminating in some parts of the canvas in mounds of expressive impasto, and congealing into radiating planes of pigment in others. Each dab of paint is laid with a punctilious devotion to the act of mark-making, consuming the canvas in a field of texture. For all the flurry of countless brushstrokes across this grand canvas, with its elegant palette and intricate construction, the work remains entirely serene and utterly spellbinding to the artist and viewer alike. From their inception, Kusama’s Infinity Nets ever so quietly dispelled traditional rules and expectations of pictorial space, painterly narratives and calculated compositions. Instead, through their rather organic production, works such as Infinity Nets (KYKEY) celebrate the sheer materiality of Kusama’s canvas while delving into a dizzying exploration of optical sensations. While not entirely random nor overly precise, the artist’s carefully painted dots and arcs weave together a mesmerizing web. Kusama herself has described her Infinity Nets as paintings “without beginning, end, or center. The entire canvas would be occupied by [a] monochromatic net. This endless repetition caused a kind of dizzy, empty, hypnotic feeling”

YAYOI KUSAMA
Infinity Nets (SENN), 2011
Acrylic on canvas
130×130 cm (51.1 x 51.1 inches)
Phillips London: 3 March 2022
GBP 1,293,000

A stunning and unusual example of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s highly significant series, Infinity Nets (SENN) is a deeply contemplative and absorbing black-on-black painting that draws on a cosmic sense of expansion and infinitude. Applying the same endlessly repeating knots of paint across the wide expanse of the canvas, Kusama approaches Infinity Nets (SENN) in much the same manner as the other works from the series. However, instead of the bold color contrasts between black and white, red and green, or yellow and black more regularly employed by the artist to establish a vivid optical tension between surface and painted ground, Infinity Nets (SENN) boldly confounds all pictorial space, confronting the viewer instead with a sense of the extreme materiality of paint, and the immersive optical effects of the shimmering nets. An exercise in obliteration, within the radically limited format of the square canvas, Kusama is still able to create incredible pictorial tension and drama, the energetic impasto of her knotted loops animating the impenetrable depths of the black ground and creating complex internal rhythms as the eye transitions from passages of thicker impasto to smoother sections of thinner and lighter paint. Disrupting the flat surface of the canvas and picking up patterns of shifting light as it passes, Kusama’s treatment of paint here animates Infinity Nets (SENN) with a forceful dynamism, reflecting the obsessional focus on accumulation, repetition, and the infinite that best characterizes her practice.

3.2/ 2021 Auction Highlights


 

Infinity Nets [OTWHON], 2014
Acrylic on canvas
144.8×144.8 cm (57×57 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 1 December 2021
HKD 19,450,000 / USD 2,496,342

INFINITY-NETS (OPRT), 2004
Acrylic on canvas
193×193 cm (75.9×75.9 inches)
Phillips Hong-Kong: 30 November 2021
HKD 22,635,000 / USD 2,903,076

Gold-Sky-Nets, 2015
Acrylic on canvas
112×145.5 cm (41.1×57.3 inches)
Seoul Auction: 26 October 2021
USD 3,125,309
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 19 April 2021
HKD 9,250,000 / USD 1,191,058

Utterly mesmerizing and enthralling, executed in a distinctive palette of shimmering yellow-gold and black, Yayoi Kusama’s GOLD-SKY-NETS is a resplendent testament to the enduring, spellbinding power of the artist’s signature abstract mode. Executed in 2015, the present work marks the apex of a period of major and highly celebrated retrospectives that wholly solidified Kusama’s status and significance within the context of the contemporary art canon. In its intricately constructed surface of undulating forms, GOLD-SKY-NETS is a superb exemplar from the artist’s iconic series of Infinity Nets; these iconic works serve as the cornerstone of Kusama’s artistic practice and the foundation for the remainder of her sculptures, installations, and varied painterly output. The scintillating, immersive surface of GOLD-SKY-NETS achieves the artist’s ultimate goal: to momentarily draw the viewer into Kusama’s own, definitive experience of infinity.

Enveloping the viewer within its gleaming surface, GOLD-SKY-NETS is at once meditative and emphatic, intricate and explosive, utterly abstract and entirely specific. Below the labyrinthine web of golden loops, the saturated azure hue of the painting’s ground invites the viewer to immerse him or herself within its chartreuse depths. Kusama’s use of metallic pigment imbues the present work with an aura of exquisite light; the work is ethereal, texturally anomalous and full of reflected illumination. The artist’s innumerable brushstrokes pile onto one another, culminating in some parts of the canvas in mounds of expressive impasto, and congealing into radiating planes of pigment in others. Each dab of paint is laid with a punctilious devotion to the act of mark making, consuming the canvas in a field of texture. At first glance, the disparate layers of pigment are deceptively legible; yet upon further inspection, the hypnotic skeins of paints begin to dilate and pulsate, creating an extraordinary and intriguing visual interplay within the painting’s depths.

Silver Nets (EOKI), 2015
Acrylic on canvas
162.2×130.5 cm (63.9×51.4 inches)
Phillips London: 15 October 2021
GBP 1,837,500 / USD 2,527,858

In its endlessly repeating knots of shimmering silver covering a barely discernible black ground reconfigured by the eye into a vibrating expanse of polka dots, Yayoi Kusama’s Silver-Nets (EOKI) is a particularly dynamic example of the artist’s highly significant Infinity Nets series. Evoking at once the molecular and the cosmic, the expansively infinite and deeply intimate, Kusuma first embarked on her series of vast nets shortly after her move to New York in 1958, when Abstract Expressionism was at its zenith. In her blending of seriality with modes of all-over painting Kusama sought not only to disrupt distinctions between figure and ground, but to obliterate the nature of canvas completely, allowing it to merge with herself, the room and ultimately, the entire universe.

Infinity Nets [OPQR], 2007
Acrylic on canvas
91×73 cm (35.8×28.7 inches)
Christie’s London: 15 October 2021
GBP 1,702,500 / USD 2,342,137

Infinity-Nets (GKT), 2015
Acrylic on canvas
145.5×112 cm (57.3×44.1 inches)
Christie’s London: 15 October 2021
GBP 1,702,500 / USD 2,342,137

Nets Obsession, 2004
Acrylic on canvas
162.3×162.3 cm (63.9×63.9 inches)
Phillips Hong-Kong: 8 June 2021
HKD 25,660,000 / USD 3,306,743

Nets Obsession is a beautiful example of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Net paintings, her most celebrated body of work exploring the net motif that has preoccupied the artist since 1958. While her first Infinity Nets consist of white lattice structures on black backgrounds, thickly impastoed circular forms that create a shimmering overlay like textured lace, her later works grew to be flatter over time, her brushstrokes less visible. As a self-taught painter, Kusama’s approach to painting is utterly unique, allowing her innermost self to flow onto the surface in a process she later referred to as “self-therapy”. This blue aquatic present work is beautifully emblematic of the inclusion of color in her net paintings, suggestive of a marine-scape in which living organisms sway in the moving current, hypnotizing the viewer in the serenity of its depths. In Nets Obsession, Kusama delicately places an array of white, weave-like curls onto a surface of midnight blue, creating a capricious, animate image as the white mixes with the background to create fluctuating tonality. The painting appears to resemble a coral reef, viewed as if a diver swimming above, watching the marine life and coral polyps sway in the gentle currents below.

The feeling of viewing a subaquatic scene is reinforced by the loose, thinly applied paint which looks itself to have been purposefully watered down. Kusama’s individual strokes blur into one, achieving the effect of totality and evoking her interest in the theme of interconnectivity. Further, the thinness of her paint emphasizes the dexterity and fearlessness of each stroke, as there is nowhere to hide, no thick paint to obscure a misstep of hand. The surface seems to change as the viewer’s eye scans over different parts of the canvas, not dictated by a particular focal point or composition, but coming alive under the viewer’s activating gaze. The image shimmers with a metallic sheen when hit by direct light, almost cool to the touch and mimicking the effect of sunlight plunging through water and refracting in the ripples and waves. Here, the variation of paint thickness allows Kusama to capture a sense of depth and movement that is not necessarily common to her Infinity Nets, typically more porous in their appearance. In Nets Obsession, the artist creates a rhythmic structure that advances and retreats, ebbs and flows, not confined to the constraints of the canvas but seeping out towards us in all directions.

INFINITY-NETS (T.OWE), 2006
Acrylic on canvas
162.6×162.6 cm (64×64 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 24 May 2021
HKD 20,650,000 / USD 2,659,334

Hudson River, 1960
Oil on canvas
71.7×60.3 cm (28.2×23.7 inches)
Signed, titled and dated 1960 (on the reverse)
Bonhams New-York: 12 May 2021
USD 3,990,312

Mississippi River and Hudson River, both from 1960, are singular examples from the Yayoi Kusama’s six decades of art making. Deeply rare, quintessential examples of one of the most important motifs in Kusama’s career, here the Infinity Net technique is at its best: the nets expand and contract, swirling and falling in waves across the canvas. Each tiny net is hypnotic and mesmerizing, demonstrating the sheer power of Kusama’s work. These works are deeply personal, connecting memories from Kusama’s isolated childhood in Japan, to her new life in New York. This is underscored by their provenance, having been treasured paintings hanging proudly in Dr Hirose’s home for the last six decades.

Hudson River and Mississippi River were executed in the early days of Kusama’s New York career; they were given to Dr Hirose in October of 1960. Initially, Kusama’s Infinity Net paintings were painted in white on black ground, with a white over wash, and typically on a monumental scale designed to take over gallery and exhibition spaces. The present works are also some of the artist’s earliest works in red, moving away from her initial white works. The red is a powerful statement, providing an energy and motion, which was harder to capture in the subtle layers of her initial white canvases. The reds and blacks in both paintings merge and meld, though both entirely abstract, there is a clear connection to landscape and nature between them. Red works from this period are rare for Kusama.

Mississippi River, 1960
Oil on canvas
60.3×71.7 cm (23.7×28.2 inches)
Signed, titled and dated 1960 (on the reverse)
Bonhams New-York: 12 May 2021
USD 3,630,312

River paintings, are autobiographical in a deep way, connecting Kusama’s past to her present and the new life that she was embarking on in America, depicting the Hudson River for which she would be so familiar in New York as well as the Mississippi River which she crossed on her first flight to the city from Seattle in 1958, winding waterways that deeply define the American landscape. This connection from life in Japan to life in America, made them a fitting gift to Teruo and Shigeko Hirose, immigrants themselves. These river paintings also draw close parallels to contemporaneous works of Kusama’s mentor, Georgia O’Keeffe. Just as Dr Hirose had his great uncle and fellow mentors in the medical field who supported and encouraged him to come to the States, O’Keeffe was, in Kusama’s words “her first and greatest benefactor”. Kusama famously discovered O’Keeffe’s work in a book near Kusama’s home in rural Japan. Immediately taken with it, Kusama took a train six hours to Tokyo where, through something of a miracle, there was a book at the United States Embassy that included O’Keeffe’s address. Kusama wrote to her of her desire to move to America and become an artist, sending a selection of her works on paper with her. O’Keeffe generously returned the correspondence, made introductions and offered advice to the young artist at the time. They would eventually meet in New York, around the same time that the present works were executed. O’Keeffe created her own series emulating rivers in the same period. As with so many of her works, she took inspiration from air travel that was becoming increasingly mainstream and allowed her to see much of the American landscape. It is fascinating to see two artists who would become two of the most influential and recognizable artistic voices of their generation approach the same subject matter in the same year. Two of the most important paintings to ever come to market, Hudson River and Mississippi River are seminal examples from the start of Kusama’s most important decade. Capturing moments from her childhood and earliest days in America, they remain fresh, captivating paintings sixty years since their execution.

5. Other Paintings


YAYOI KUSAMA
A Flower, 2000
Acrylic on canvas laid on board
45.5 x 37.5 cm (17.9 x 14.7 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 26 May 2022
HKD 8,820,000 / USD 1,123,638

YAYOI KUSAMA
The Evening Sun (TOXAT), 2007
Acrylic on canvas
160 x 130 cm. (63 x 51 1⁄8 in.)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 25 May 2022
HKD 22,050,000 / USD 2,808,953

YAYOI KUSAMA
A Butterfly, 2009
Acrylic on canvas
97 x 130.3 cm (38.1 x 51.1 inches)
Christie’s Hong-Kong: 25 May 2022
HKD 31,650,000 / USD 4,031,898

YAYOI KUSAMA
Dot Obsession-T.W.KEV
, 2005
Acrylic on canvas
162×162 cm (63.7 x 63.7 inches)
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 28 April 2022
HKD 6,930,000 / USD 883,207


YAYOI KUSAMA
Message from Hades
, 2014
Acrylic on canvas
194×194 cm (76.4 x 76.4 inches)
Sotheby’s Hong-Kong: 26 April 2022
HKD 13,685,000 / USD 1,744,023

An explosion of colour, Message from Hades is a brilliant example of Kusama’s unique style from the celebrated My Eternal Soul series of paintings, exhibited in her second solo show, Yayoi Kusama: Give Me Love in 2015, with David Zwirner in New York. The exhibition not only included new works from Kusama’s My Eternal Soul series, but also featured an array of silver coated pumpkins with multi-coloured dots, and the landmark installation The Obliteration Room from 2002. Created and exhibited at the height of her career, Message from Hades is dominated by Kusama’s archetypal “eye” motif, executed in her signature style of repeated arches against the patchwork of color. Indeed, the eye motif is widespread amongst the works exhibited in the exhibition and is characteristic of many of the My Eternal Soul paintings created in 2014, of which Message from Hades is a beautiful example.

Bursting with an array of imagery and colours, Kusama’s acrylic paintings are produced by working on a flat, horizontal surface, moving around the border of the canvas to complete her compositions. She has become known for her trademark motifs of dots, eyes and pumpkins and in the late 1940s began to experiment with Nihonga, a Japanese style of painting that emphasizes forms and subjects which are unique to native Japanese art. In Message from Hades, Kusama has applied base color of blistering orange and overlaid the surface with a rainbow of chromatic patches. The addition of a vibrant array of pigments rendered with tight curled brushstrokes recalls her signature net paintings, first exhibited in the late 1950s. The seed-like shapes in the center of the canvas evoke memories of her family’s seed field where sketching in the open air and watching the cycle of growth and harvest she developed a love of drawing. In Message from Hades, it is the black center with its seed like forms that immediately captures the attention of the viewer.