Rare Unseen Early Works by Yayoi Kusama in Single-Owner Sale at Bonhams New York
YAYOI KUSAMA (B. 1929) Hudson River 1960

FROM THE COLLECTION OF DR TERUO HIROSE, KUSAMA'S LIFELONG FRIEND AND DOCTOR

To be offered in May 2021

Some of the earliest recognized works by Yayoi Kusamawhich have never been exhibited in public – will be offered in a special single-owner collection sale at Bonhams New York on Wednesday, May 12. The sale, Kusama: The Collection of the late Dr Teruo Hirose, comprises three paintings and eight works on paper, gifted by Kusuma herself to Dr Hirose, her lifelong friend and doctor whom she consulted in her early years in New York in the 1960s, when she was a struggling young artist in need of medical aid. This is, without doubt, the rarest group of Kusama works from the late 1950s and 1960 to ever come to auction.

The highlights of the sale include two of Kusama's River paintings – Mississippi River and Hudson River – featuring early examples of her famous Infinity Net motif. Both were created in 1960, and offered each with an estimate of $3,000,000 – 5,000,000. These early works are exceptionally rare due to Kusama's use of the colour red - almost all her other works of this period are white. The third painting in the collection, Untitled, is a very early example of Kusama combining vibrant colours and the scale of the work lends an immersive quality, something that foreshadows the artist's later work such as her Infinity Rooms.

The eight works on paper, executed by Kusama before she arrived in the United States in 1957, are corner stones of the artist's practice, laying the aesthetic groundwork for her career to follow. Painted when Kusama was in her twenties, the works show the genesis of her Infinity Nets, as well as elements such as polka dots and flower imagery for which she would become known.

The artist and the doctor
Both Yayoi Kusama and Dr Teruo Hirose arrived in the US from Japan in the 1950s. Though the routes they took in life were very different – one was a trailblazing contemporary artist, the other a skilled medical surgeon and physician based in the Bronx (who was also part of the team pioneering open heart and bypass surgery). However, their paths crossed in New York in the 1960s, when Kusama visited Dr Hirose for medical treatment. Dr Hirose was one of two Japanese-speaking doctors in Manhattan in the 1960s, and he built a reputation within the community providing affordable medical care to Japanese patients after hours. He was especially generous to artists, often treating them pro bono. Kusama arrived in the US with little money, but everything she felt she needed: 2,000 of her works on paper and 60 silk kimonos which she planned to use in lieu of currency. With one exception, all of the works on paper offered in the sale were part of the collection she brought with her from Japan – and which were given to Dr Hirose as gifts in recognition for his kindness in treating her. The pair would become lifelong friends.

Bonhams Global Head, Post-War & Contemporary Art, Ralph Taylor, commented: "This is an exceptional collection of extremely rare early works by Yayoi Kusama. 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. The two River paintings are early examples of her famous Infinity Net motif, in a striking and unusual red, which rare for this period. Moreover, her Untitled painting demonstrates Kusama's experimentation during the 1960s, while also foreshadowing her recognisable mirror boxes – where images grow and radiate from a single point."

Writing in the Spring edition of Bonhams Magazine, Lucinda Bredin said: "Kusama traces the idea of the river back to her childhood where she would gaze at tiny pebbles "each individually verifiable" and yet part of a current that gradually gathers unstoppable force. But what is particular about these works – which have never been on public display since they were given to Dr Hirose – is that, unlike the majority of Kusama's net paintings, which are painted in ethereal white, these are an earthy, magnetic red. Because there
is no fixed point of perspective, the works draw the eye in and gradually the dots that initially appear equal and part of a universe stretching to infinity, take on their own singular presence. They at once embrace and surround, they are tangible and yet on the brink of dissolving. It is as if the eye is an element that is being immersed and tumbled about in water."

Selected works will be displayed at Bonhams Hong Kong April 7-22, with the entire collection on view in New York from April 30 - May 12.
The sale will take place immediately before Post-War & Contemporary Art sale, also on May 12, in New York.

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