Never-Before-Seen Yayoi Kusama Artworks from Dr. Hirose’s Private Collection Come to Auction

Priyanka Patil
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Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama’s artworks convey the story of her lifelong struggles and her heartfelt emotions. “With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved. In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars,” says Kusama about her repetitive, bright-colored polka dots paintings. 

Early examples of Yayoi Kusama’s dotted artworks will be featured in Bonhams’ Kusama: The Collection of the late Dr. Teruo Hirose auction on May 12th, 2021. Their first time on sale, the paintings and works on paper by Kusama have been a part of Japanese surgeon Teruo Hirose’s private collection for nearly sixty years. This rare collection is estimated at USD 8.8 million – $14 million.

Hudson River, 1960 by Yayoi Kusama 
Image source: Bonhams
Hudson River, 1960 by Yayoi Kusama 
Image source: Bonhams

During the 1960s, Yayoi Kusama was a struggling creative in Manhattan and needed medical care, which she could not afford. With only limited options, Kusama sought help from Dr. Teruo Hirose, one of the two Japanese-speaking physicians in Manhattan. Dr. Hirose was known for offering pro bono treatment to Japanese immigrants and treated Kusama for free. As a token of gratitude, the painter gave Hirose her artworks, which remained with him until his death in November 2019.

Bonhams Post-war and Contemporary art spring sale will feature 11 artworks by Yayoi Kusama, of which seven were composed before her move to New York. Commenting on the exceptional period of the works, Bonhams’ Post-War & Contemporary Global Head Ralph Taylor said, “Not only do these works have an incredible provenance, but they are also extremely significant in Kusama’s oeuvre, expressing many early features and themes, which she would continue to explore and develop throughout her career.”

Highlights of the sale include Kusama’s signature Infinity Net motif paintings like the Hudson River (1960) and Mississippi River (1960). These oil paintings feature dispersed tiny black dots on a crimson background. They draw inspiration from the netted and dotted patterns from Kusama’s childhood hallucinations.

“Her drawings and paintings represented this veil of separation through repetitive patterns, dots, or nets that spread out infinitely, obliterating everything in their path,” said Betsy Johnson, assistant curator at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Mississippi River, 1960 by Yayoi Kusama 
Image source: Bonhams
Mississippi River, 1960 by Yayoi Kusama 
Image source: Bonhams

These prime lots are estimated to sell collectively for USD 6 million–$10 million. Born in Japan, the celebrated artist started painting from a young age, a time she also began to experience hallucinations. “[These] hallucinations … would overwhelm her senses and effectively cut her off from her surroundings,” said Johnson. “At times it was as if a thin, grey veil had fallen around her, temporarily transporting her to another realm.”

Yayoi Kusama had abusive parents who discouraged her passion for art. To escape the harmful environment, the artist eventually fled to New York in 1957. The move was hard on the artist, as many of her male contemporaries adopted her ideas and became more popular than her. These experiences, coupled with her difficult childhood, became the root of her mental health problems.

The artworks featured in the auction mark the period in her life when she went through creative and mental health struggles. “Since mental health issues were not openly discussed by those around her,” said Johnson, “[her experiences] isolated Kusama and art became a means through which she was able to record and confront what was happening to her.”

Untitled, 1965 by Yayoi Kusama
Image source: Bonhams
Untitled, 1965 by Yayoi Kusama
Image source: Bonhams

The sale will also showcase an untitled 1965 artwork by Kusama featuring multi-colored patterns emerging from a focal point. The rectangular designs are reminiscent of her Infinity Mirror artworks- installations composed of reflective glass that are interactive and create illusions of infinite space.

Yayoi Kusama’s artworks from the 1950s and 60s rarely come to auction and have garnered record-breaking prices at past auctions. A recent example is the 2019 Sotheby’s auction that sold Kusama’s 1959 Infinity Net paintings for approximately $7.9 million.

The auction lots will be available for public viewing in Hong Kong from April 7th to 22nd. The works will also be exhibited in New York before their sale on May 12th. Browse these rare Yayoi Kusama artworks on Bonhams website.

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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