Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929) Stamens Sorrow 1986

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Lot 33
Yayoi Kusama
(Japanese, born 1929)
Stamens Sorrow

Sold for £ 120,100 (US$ 160,251) inc. premium
Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929)
Stamens Sorrow

signed in Japanese, dated 1986 and titled in Japanese on the reverse
stuffed fabric, acrylic and mixed media on board

40.5 by 40.5 by 10 cm.
15 15/16 by 15 15/16 by 3 15/16 in.


  • This work is accompanied by a registration card issued by Kusama Enterprise, Tokyo.

    Angelo Donati Collection, Italy
    Acquired directly from the above by the present owner circa 2000

    Milan, Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, La forma del Mondo/La fine del Mondo, 2000, p. 148, illustrated in colour

    A refreshingly chaotic blast of colour and movement, Stamens Sorrow of 1986 is a wonderful piece of art, which, despite hints of melancholy in its title, encapsulates boundless energy and intensity. A slice of quintessential Kusama, it displays many of the motifs for which the celebrated artist is best-known. A mass of seething, sculptural forms which seem intent on defying their two-dimensionality, it is also endlessly captivating, even enigmatic; sometimes conceptual, often surreal, always unflinchingly avant-garde, Yayoi Kusama's oeuvre can be difficult to categorise. Terms like Minimalist, Pop and Feminist have all been applied to her at various point in her long career, but no single classification quite does her justice. Including painting, sculpture, installation and performance, her artistic output is as diverse as it is unpredictable. In addition to being Japan's best-known living artist, she is a respected writer who has produced numerous books and essays dedicated to her own work and life, as well as various novels and poems, over the past few decades. Throughout most of her life she has also struggled with her mental health, and whilst it might be tempting to presume that her incredible achievements have been accomplished despite her ongoing health problems, in reality it seems likely that these achievements largely stem from Kusama's own personal experiences with psychological disorder. Her psychoses have proved inspirational for her art, as she herself explains: "My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings" (the artist in: bombmagazine.org, 1999). In fascinating pieces such as the present work, Yayoi Kusama allows us a glimpse into the inner workings of her complex and creative mental experiences, producing in the process a remarkable work of art which is both stunningly beautiful and startlingly profound.

    Born into a wealthy and traditional Japanese family in Matsumoto in 1929, it is something of a miracle that Kusama became an artist at all. Her early years were difficult, and her relationship with her parents fractious and at times violent. Eventually she escaped to Kyoto, enrolling in painting classes there but soon tiring of the traditional methods taught in the conservative academy. It was during this period that Kusama experienced a mental breakdown, which triggered a period of intense creativity, but also compelled her to destroy many of her early works. In 1951 she made the decision to move to New York, breaking away from her disapproving family for good and heading to what was at that time the world capital of avant-garde art. Despite speaking next to no English, and knowing almost no-one, Kusama quickly established herself as an artistic force to be reckoned with.

    Yayoi Kusama's early reputation was based on a series of audacious performance pieces, or 'happenings', which often included nude protagonists painted with lurid abstract patterns. It is here that the importance of her signature polka-dot became more clearly defined, a motif which has endured in her art throughout the decades to follow. In Stamens Sorrow, 1986, this dot motif is transferred onto a panoply of padded elements, rounded shapes reminiscent of ova which battle to burst forth from the strictures of a wooden frame. Overlying this vibrant throng is a delicate lace of tiny 'stamen', their form clearly a reference to spermatozoa, which dart and swim across the purple (a colour rarely seen in Kusama's work) and black polka-dot surface. The result is work which is at once profound and incredibly delicate, the 'stamen' and 'ova' combining to create pictorial depth as well as poetic energy. A cacophony of colour, shape and volume, Stamens Sorrow, 1986, presents us with a moment of imminent creation, its fecund forms alluding to the potential for burgeoning life, to new beginnings and unknown potential.

    After her early success in America, Kusama returned to her native Japan in 1973, retreating from the full glare of the art world. Her creativity, however, never dimmed, and within a few years she was back in the spotlight, even more fêted than before. In 1987, one year after the creation of this wonderful work, she was honoured with her first ever retrospective at the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, and two years after that another retrospective was held at the Centre for International Contemporary Art in New York. Since then, her career has been celebrated in a seemingly endless list of solo shows and retrospectives around the globe, and her work is now held in some of the most prestigious public collections in the world, including MoMA, New York, Tate Modern, London and the Centre Pompidou Paris amongst many others. Her life and career could be framed as a narrative of triumph against adversity. In fact, it should more correctly be described as a tale of triumph rooted in adversity. As Stamens Sorrow, 1986 reveals, the strange visions of Yayoi Kusama, and the unique world view that her intense psychological experiences have inspired, have allowed her to develop a unique artistic genius. In this strange yet alluring work of art, we see a world quite different to our own, a place unfamiliar and intriguing, utterly personal and infinitely universal.
Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929) Stamens Sorrow 1986
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