Lot 1127
  • 1127

YAYOI KUSAMA | Pumpkin Army

10,000,000 - 20,000,000 HKD
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  • Yayoi Kusama
  • Pumpkin Army
  • acrylic on canvas
  • 130.3 by 162 cm.   51¼ by 63¾ in.
signed, title and dated 2014 on the reverse


Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner

This work is accompanied by a registration card issued by YAYOI KUSAMA Inc.

Catalogue Note

I love pumpkins because of their humorous form, warm feeling, and a human-like quality and form. My desire to create works of pumpkins still continues. I have enthusiasm as if I were still a child.

Yayoi Kusama 

Bursting with joyous psychedelic energy, Pumpkin Army features Yayoi Kusama’s iconic ‘army of pumpkins’ composition in large format canvas, rendering it a rare specimen featuring this highly special motif in a unique painting. With its striking orange kabocha background and cheerful chorus of fastidiously executed pumpkins, Pumpkin Army sets itself apart, marrying Kusama’ pumpkin iconography with her conceptual motifs of repetition and infinity. Manifesting as an unequivocally consummate and technically impeccable archetype of Kusama’s oeuvre, the energetic ensemble of pumpkins echoes the powerful and immersive multitudes of pumpkins in her iconic mirror room installations – a true testament to nine decades of astonishing dedication to art and creation. Arguably the most important living female artist today, responsible for revolutionising Abstraction, Expressionism, Emotionalism, Pop Art and Minimalism, Kusama Yayoi’s phenomenal oeuvre transgresses paradigms in all fields and media. Since her early days of explosive stardom creating cutting-edge avant-garde art in parallel with key figures in the male-dominated global art scene such as Andy Warhol, George Segal, Donald Judd and Claes Oldenburg, Kusama’s ground-breaking innovation never diminished; now in her late-eighties, the octogenarian shows no signs of slowing down. Fuelled by an irrepressible drive and a singularly extraordinary vision, Kusama works tirelessly and compulsively, producing captivating and intricate works each more beautiful and mesmerising than the last. The present Pumpkin Army was created in 2014 at the apex of the artist’s return to global eminence, manifesting as an emblem of the artist’s epochal multi-faceted oeuvre.

Embodying an iconic, charismatic and highly personal motif, Kusama’s pumpkins are as universally emblematic of her oeuvre as the Campbell’s soup can was to Andy Warhol’s. Developed to mature perfection through decades of near-obsessive production and reproduction, Kusama’s pumpkins enact the artist’s expansive aesthetic philosophy whilst creating a dazzlingly hypnotic visual narrative – one that evokes strong associations with the formal reduction of Minimalism, the repetitive symbolism of Pop and the hypnotic illusions of Op Art. Surreal and fantastical, Kusama’s pumpkin paintings exhibit extraordinary dexterity in skill and execution as well as the single-minded meticulous vision that defines the artist’s career – all the while being deeply personal and indexical, representing a wholly epic extension of Kusama’s legacy in contemporary art and culture.

The incipient appearance of Kusama’s mature pumpkins occurred in the 1980s and 1990s – a period in which Kusama returned to works with richer narrative content as opposed to the stark austere aesthetic of her 1960s infinity nets. However, the initial manifestation of the motif itself (not yet rendered in its present polka-dotted form) can be traced back to the artist’s Nihonga practice at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts in the late 1940s. The pumpkin is deeply central to the artist’s core psyche, stemming from a vivid hallucination from 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” (Infinity Net, Yayoi Kusama, trans. Ralph McCarthy, Tate Publishing, London, UK, 2011, p. 75). The anthropomorphised pumpkin can here be seen as indexical to Kusama’s other encounters with animated plants and objects, such as her memory of speaking to a talking flower and dog in her childhood. However, unlike the traumatic feelings that the artist associates with the flower and dog, the talking pumpkin exuded a “generous unpretentiousness” (Infinity Net, Yayoi Kusama, trans. Ralph McCarthy, Tate Publishing, London, UK, 2011, p. 76), emitting a “solid spiritual balance” (Ibid.).

Functioning as both an allegory and a form of self-portraiture, Kusama’s pumpkin as an uncanny yet benign and nurturing subject exudes peace, serenity, life and vigour. Traditionally a symbol of fertility, the pumpkin also gives one a feeling of abundance, joy, triumph and reward – not unlike the feelings one would experience when reaping one’s harvest after an arduous season of work. In 1993, after almost two decades of a retreated presence from the international art world, Kusama was invited to be the first solo artist and first woman ever to grace the Japanese pavilion at the 45th Venice Biennale. For this momentous occasion she constructed Mirror Room (Pumpkin), consuming a section of the pavilion in an immersive floor-to-ceiling extravaganza of black-on-yellow polka dots. At its centre was a dazzling mirrored room filled with pumpkin sculptures, echoing her seminal 1966 Infinity Mirror Room—Love Forever installation whilst grandly introducing the theme of the pumpkin. The pumpkin thus stands as a symbol of triumph for the artist’s international resurgence and rise to global eminence. Created in 2014, in the midst of the surging momentum of Kusama’s ongoing ascent into the highest echelons of contemporary art history, the present highly unique Pumpkin Army harnesses the artist’s most recognizable iconography, enacting a singular encapsulation of one of the most important artistic visions of our generation.