Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929) No. A.A. 1958
Lot 17
Yayoi Kusama
(Japanese, born 1929)
No. A.A.
1958
Sold for £ 608,750 (US$ 801,137) inc. premium

Lot Details
Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929) No. A.A. 1958
Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929)
No. A.A.
1958

signed and dated 58; signed, titled and dated 1958 on the reverse
oil and ink on canvas board

50.6 by 40.4 cm.
19 15/16 by 15 7/8 in.

Footnotes

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

    Provenance
    Herbert Read Collection, UK (a gift from the artist)
    Lady Margaret Read Collection, UK (by descent from the above in 1968)
    Thence by descent to the present owner

    Exhibited
    Washington, Gres Gallery, Yayoi Kusama, 1960



    Executed at the creative epicentre of Yayoi Kusama's early career, No. A.A. from 1958 is one the earliest major paintings by the artist ever to appear at auction. This was the year in which Kusama first arrived in New York and the present work therefore represents the collision between her more restrained Asian sensibility and the sensory overload of late 1950s America. The fact that the work was later gifted to the celebrated writer and pioneer of European art Herbert Read, in whose family collection it has remained ever since, defines No. A.A. as being a unique combination of provenance and quality from this great artist's unparalleled career. The late 1950s and early 1960s were a crucial period for Kusama; in the few months that followed her arrival in America her work was to be completely transformed, taking on numerous new inspirations and developing an aesthetic which remains totally unique and highly influential today. It is works such as No. A.A., a painting of indisputable museum-quality, which rapidly established Yayoi Kusama's reputation not just in New York, but across the world. She also gained the backing of critics, including the English poet and scholar Herbert Read, a man described recently as "one of the most influential art and literary theorists of modernism active in the first half of the Twentieth century" (Michael Paraskos in: Michael Paraskos, Herbert Read: Art and Idealism, Mitcham 2014, p. 5). Read discovered Kusama's work in 1960 at the Gres Gallery show in Washington in which No. A.A. was first publicly exhibited. Kusama would later meet Read in New York, and also visited him in his home in England. Kusama would commemorate this relationship by offering the present work to Read as a gift, allowing it to remain in the esteemed collection of the Read family ever since, with it now coming to the market for the first time. Read was an enthusiastic supporter of Kusama and in 1964 he praised the artist and her early work, referencing the Gres Gallery show six years prior, and describing the "strange beauty" perfectly encapsulated in No. A.A.: "I discovered Kusama's art in Washington, several years ago, and at once I felt like I was in the presence of an original talent. Those early paintings, without beginning, without end, without form, without definition, seemed to actualize the infinity of space. [...] It is an autonomous art, the most authentic type of super-reality. This image of strange beauty presses on our organs of perception with terrifying persistence" (Herbert Read in: Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London 2011, p. 48.)

    No. A.A. is ethereal, a mass of ghostly colours and delicate lines shifting and merging into one another. Kusama's lightness of touch, her expert handling of the tones, means that it seems to almost glow with an inner light, like a sky at dawn as the sun pierces through the darkness. A delicate tracery of lines criss-crosses its way over the canvas, a lace-like curtain of dashes, evocative perhaps of an ancient writing system etched into stone or an elaborate system of roots and branches or a repeated gesture. Complex and convoluted, the image ultimately remains undefinable, ungraspable.

    The painting's ambiguous, abstract forms recall the work of previous generations of artists, particularly the European painters Max Ernst, Jean Fautrier and Jean Dubuffet who had revolutionized the art world in the first half of the Twentieth Century as well as the American Abstract Expressionists such as Mark Tobey whose work Canticle from 1954 is illustrated herewith. Yet her works were also influential on New York's artistic community; soon after her arrival in the United States Kusama began to associate with Donald Judd and Frank Stella amongst others. Judd first encountered her paintings whilst working as an art critic for ARTNews during which he reviewed her 1959 show at the Brata Gallery in New York. Judd's interest in her works, developing in tandem with fellow critic Read's interest, as well as Kusama's influence on his own Minimalist style has recently been recognised by Judd's own son, Flavin: "[Kusama's works] helped him find a way through his work—and a direction out of representational painting... He starting [sic] to make his flat plane paintings around the same time." (Flavin Judd in: Alexxa Gotthardt, 'The Long, Collaborative Friendship of Yayoi Kusama and Donald Judd', artsy.net, 22 September 2017).

    In recent years, Kusama's profile has risen exponentially and she is now regarded as one of the most influential artists of the late Twentieth Century. In autumn 2017, a huge museum dedicated to her life and work was opened in Tokyo, while a record-breaking retrospective organised by the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC, will be travelling to several of North America's most revered public galleries until 2019. Such exhibits confirm the significance of Kusama's early and rare works which so captured the imagination of Read and Judd; the importance of such canvases has also been highlighted by Lynn Zelevansky, former director of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, who writes: "From the time that she arrived in New York in 1958 until performance began to dominate her oeuvre a decade later, Yayoi Kusama produced a body of work that was undeniable in its power and remarkably prescient in its anticipation of subsequent artistic developments in the United States" (in Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958-1968, Los Angeles 1998, p. 11). During her time in New York, her works grew in size, and became more ambitious in their content. As this important early oil and ink on canvas board, demonstrates, Kusama was taking full advantage of her new creative environment, a place without boundaries or inhibitions, where anything seemed possible.
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