“I adore pumpkins. As my spiritual home since childhood, pumpkins bring about poetic peace in my mind. Pumpkins talk to me, giving off an aura of my sacred mental state. They embody a base for the joy of living shared by all of humankind on earth. It is for the pumpkins that I keep on going.”
Standing at a metre tall and wide, Untitled (Pumpkin Sculpture)
is a prime example of Kusama Yayoi’s most loved and iconic figurative motif – her ubiquitous pumpkin, decorated with her signature polka dot theme. Multi-sized striated black dots slither over the gleaming yellow skin of the pumpkin’s bulbous form, exhibiting Kusama’s extraordinarily dexterous skill, meticulous technique as well as the singular hallucinogenic vision that drives her legendary career. Rendered in yellow and black, the most classic palette of Kusama’s corpus of pumpkin sculptures, the sculpture’s intense colour juxtaposition and dynamic patterns induce a rhythmic and enthralling optical sensation. Kusama’s pumpkins are one of the most loved and recognized images in contemporary art today; feisty and universally adored, they are an embodiment of optimism, serenity and joy – an artistic and symbolic motif which the artist repeatedly returned to for “spiritual balance”, inspiration and motivation (Yayoi Kusama, trans. Ralph McCarthy, Infinity Net
, Tate Publishing, London, 2011, p.76).
Kusama’s profound connection with the pumpkin motif can be traced back to a vivid hallucinogenic episode during her childhood: “The first time I ever saw a pumpkin was when I was in elementary school and went with my grandfather to visit a big seed-harvesting 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” (Ibid
, p. 75). The artist also recalls having overconsumed the vegetable to the point of nausea in her childhood years during and after the war. Kusama began painting images of the voluptuous vegetable during her Nihonga practice at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in the late 1940s; recalling this period, Kusama wrote: “During my time in Kyoto I diligently painted pumpkins, which in later years would become an important theme in my art” (Ibid
, p. 75).
Kusama’s pumpkin motif in its matured polka dotted form made its formal entrance in the artist’s oeuvre during the 1980s and 1990s, appearing in paintings, drawings and prints, as well as in her defining environmental installation Mirror Room (Pumpkin)
at the Fuji Television Gallery and the Hara Museum in Tokyo in 1991. The dazzling and immersive installation was subsequently recreated at the Japanese Pavilion at the 45th
Venice Biennale in 1993, at which she handed out little takeaway pumpkins to visitors. Kusama was the first solo artist as well as the first woman ever to grace the Japanese pavilion at the Biennale – an occasion that marked the artist’s status as a truly international artist – and the momentous milestone was made possible by her wholly distinctive and paradigmatic pumpkins.
By the 2000s, Kusama’s pumpkins had become a central theme and emblem of the artist’s epochal and multifaceted oeuvre, appearing again and again often in larger than life sculptural forms and installed in iconic sites around the world. Executed in 2007, the present sculpture follows a lineage of large-scale pumpkin sculptures housed in prestigious museums and outdoor sites, including Pumpkin (1994) in the Fukuoka Prefectural Museum of Art as well as Pumpkin (2006) at Bunka-mura on Benesse Island of Naoshima, amongst others. Most recently in February 2018, a pumpkin sculpture executed in 2008, a year after the present work is dated, inaugurated Hong Kong’s first international sculpture park at the Central harbourfront. Each of these pumpkins stand as a symbol of triumph for Kusama’s ascension to triumph as one of the most important living contemporary artists today, whilst also sending out a message of hope, peace and love to fans and art lovers at all corners of the world.