- Yayoi Kusama
- Fear of Death
- signed, titled and dated 2008 on the reverse
- acrylic on canvas
- 194.3 by 194.3cm.; 76 1/2 by 76 1/2 in.
Private Collection, South America
Phillips, New York, Contemporary Art, 13 November 2014, Lot 35
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Employing a seemingly restrictive paradigm, Kusama has continually pushed the formal possibilities of painting through a poetic visual language that has become as iconic as her striking persona. Often expressed in the form of dots, nets or in the present work through the repeated symbol of an eye, Kusama’s idiosyncratic paintings recall the all-over compositions of the abstract expressionists amongst whom she emerged as an artist in the New York scene of the 1950s. Unlike any of her male contemporaries, however, she never showed an interest in the metaphysics of the sublime, but sought to express a much more vivid and direct experience. Having been diagnosed with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, Kusama perceived the world through a vivid series of potent hallucinations that are brilliantly captured in her paintings. Explaining the intensity of such moments, Kusama remarked: “My room, my body, the entire universe was filled with [patterns], my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and the absolute of space. This was not an illusion but reality” (Yayoi Kusama quoted in: Laura Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, London 2000, p. 35-36).
The present work, Fear of Death, perfectly captures Kusama’s obsessive spirit in the repetitive application of a symbol of an eye, hand-painted in the artist’s signature free painterly manner. The symbolism not only invokes Kusama’s own unique hallucinatory perception of the world – in which everything seems interconnected and, as visualised in the present work, a multitude of simultaneous and paranoid experiences – but also invokes ancient symbolism. As the title suggests, the eye has for millennia been used to protect from physical and spiritual evil, functioning an antidote to the fear of death. Epitomising Kusama’s signature artistic achievements in a captivating and symbolically loaded composition, Fear of Death stands as a powerful testament to her utterly unique artistic vision.