Hirst: “Do you feel more like a colourist, a painter, an artist, or a sculptor?”
Kusama: “I feel more like a sculptor.”
Flamboyant, uncannily anthropomorphic and exuberantly bizarre, Kusama Yayoi’s Flowers That Bloom at Midnight manifests an instantly arresting and compelling presence. The monstrous flower comes to life through its human-scaled size, bright riotous gaudy colors and curvaceous bodily form; positioned in a lounging disposition reminiscent of the canon of the reclining nude, the sculpture confronts the viewer with an idiosyncratic Surreal-Pop aura that is at once whimsical and sinister, quirky and playful yet subtly haunting. Meticulously hand painted, the sculpture exhibits the singular hallucinogenic vision that drives Kusama's legendary career. The present work is a part of an original series of seven flower sculptures that was later re-visited by the artist to become a unique series of fifteen; the original series, titled Flowers That Bloom at Midnight, was displayed at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art in Australia in 2011 and subsequently at the Tuilleries gardens in Paris by the Louvre, which coincided with her first French retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in 2012.
A psychedelic science-fiction object, the sculpture is an extraordinary manifestation of Kusama’s hallucinations embodying one of the artist’s most iconic and well-known motifs, the flower. As a child, Kusama experienced hallucinations in which an overwhelming multitude of flowers would bloom, fill the room around her, and communicate with her. In the artist’s own words: “From a very young age I used to carry my sketchbook down to the seed-harvesting grounds. I would sit among beds of violets, lost in thought. One day I suddenly looked up to find that each and every violet had its own individual, human-like facial expression, and to my astonishment they were talking to me... They were all like little human faces looking at me” (Kusama Yayoi, Infinity Net, the Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, Tate 2011, pp. 62). In another well-known hallucination: “One day, when I was a little girl, I found myself trembling, all over my body, with fear, amid flowers incarnate, which had appeared all of a sudden. I was surrounded by hundreds of violets in a flower garden. The violets, with uncanny expressions, were chatting among themselves like human beings. No sooner had they and I had spiritual dialogues than I became infatuated with them, drawn into glitter of illusion, away from this world” (Kusama Yayoi, “The Struggle and Wandering of My Soul”, 1975, in exh. cat. Yayoi Kusama, Phaidon, pp. 118).
Kusama first engaged in the medium of sculpture in the late 1990s and defined herself as more of a sculptor than painter or colorist (Damien Hirst, ‘Across the Water’ in Exh. Cat., New York, Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama: Now, Robert Miller Gallery, 1998, pp. 134-140). During the first decade of the 21st century, she began to create monumental public outdoor sculptures, including several major outdoor commissions, that contended with the likes of Jeff Koons and Paul McCarthy. She first made large-scale floral sculptures in 2000 for Kirishima Open-air Museum in Yusui, Japan, followed by permanent commissions including The Visionary Flowers (2002) for Matsumoto City Museum of Art in Nagano, Japan; Tsumari in Bloom(2003) for Matsudai village, Niigata, Japan, Tulipes de Shangri-La (2003) for Eurolille in Lille, France; and The Hymn of Life: Tulips (2007) for the city of Beverly Hills, United States. Executed in 2009, the present lot is exemplary of Kusama’s large-scale flower sculptures and displays her refined sculptural prowess: cast in fiberglass-reinforced plastic before being hand-painted in urethane, the sculpture’s luminous plastic surfaces create a joltingly disorienting hypnotic effect, mirroring the artist’s idiosyncratic inner visions that drive her oeuvre.
With its vast scale and fleshly physicality, Flowers That Bloom at Midnight compels the viewer to participate and engage with it by walking around all of its protrusions. Twisting and stretching its leaves vertically and outwardly, the flower seems animated, eager to rise up and come alive. Its form is distinctively anthropomorphic, with leaves resembling limbs, the stem resembling a neck, and the blossom the head; while the capitulum of the flower is replaced by a single large eye. Sentient, whimsically child-like yet also faintly ominous, Flowers consummately encapsulates the dueling dichotomies often found in Kusama’s complex, multifarious yet universally resonant and critically acclaimed oeuvre.