Auction | China Guardian (HK) Auctions Co., Ltd.
2023 Spring Auctions > Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art
Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art

Yayoi Kusama (b.1929)
Ashtray(Painted in 1981)

Acrylic on canvas

15.8 × 22.7 cm. 6 1/4 × 8 7/8 in.

Titled in Japanese, signed in English and dated on the reverse
Important Private Collection, Asia

This work is accompanied by a registration card issued by Yayoi Kusama studio

The Universe in a Small Space
The Opening Work of Yayoi Kusama's Small-scale Painting: Ashtray

“I want to present a different kind of lighting with infinite repetition and a single colour tone of black and white, in search of a new form of painting expression. In addition, I abandoned the fixed focus and visual emphasis in this work, it's my originality.”
——Yayoi Kusama

After leaving the hustle and bustle of her New York days, Yayoi Kusama returned to Japan in 1973 to begin a new chapter in her artistic career. She voluntarily checked into a psychiatric facility in Tokyo, where she stayed for 34 years. During this period of deliberate self-imposed seclusion, Kusama created a large and diverse bunch of works, of which her paintings of everyday objects became the most important aspect of her creative process. From 1981 to 2006, she created a series of small oil paintings of 14x21cm. In this auction, we are honored to present Ashtray, the artist's first small oil painting, which was completed in 1981. Such a subject is one of the very few Kusama has ever created in her lifetime, and there are only 20 pieces of them, highlighting the rarity of this work.

The size of this group of delicate works spans from the age of 52 to 77, and is a testament to the artist's painting skills, as every detail of the structure must be carefully laid out. The Ashtray is a representative of Kusama›s delicate small-size works, and it is a work of determination in which Kusama concentrated her energy in her 60s.

The Convergence of Polka Dots and Infinity Nets

The Ashtray features two classic art elements, polka dots, and infinity nets, which are the most iconic elements of Kusama. The ashtray is made up of black polka dots, and the three-dimensional sense is created through the stacking of small geometric patterns. The polka dots of different sizes and staggered arrangements create a visual dynamic of reliefs, entering the infinite visual net. The net in the background and the texture of the table are in reverse colour so that the work can present in three-dimensional and concavity in the seemingly flat expression. The smoke is a dynamic, hovering, intimate space that gives people a sense of wonder.

The Philosophy of Measuring Time

“When I first arrived in New York, I thought it was so different from Tokyo. I see people standing on the side of the road with cigarettes in their hands, and I sense freedom in the air.”
——Yayoi Kusama

The lines in Ashtray show the artist's extremely delicate brushwork. Some of them have a matte and soft texture, while others are thick and strong, reflecting the artist's flexibility and versatility in the use of colour. The contrast between black and white is a metaphor for reality and the sense of imagination represented by the ashtray and the smoke, which serves as a reflection of Kusama's thinking for life, where reality and imagination overlap. The lighted cigarette symbolizes freedom and the process of thinking, while the ashes in the ashtray are time faded, presenting the Japanese philosophy of “at the moment”. The cigarette that burns out is a manifestation of human life from birth to death, and no matter what, one should seize every second of the present moment, this is a statement of Kusama's outlook on life.

Controlling Dots: A Game of Beauty and Reason

“The spell of the net of dots has already engulfed me. Doesn't matter if you're Pablo Picasso or Henri Matisse, go ahead. I will fight with dots. I bet everything I had on it, and before long the net of polka dots will spread beyond the canvas to the floor, and even to the table and the chairs. They allow me to develop my childhood dreams into obsessive art. My artistic footprints are real, not fictitious or copied.”
——Yayoi Kusama

When creating an artwork, the artist first spreads a static, absolutely smooth plane on the canvas, and then adds as much texture as possible on top of it, organizing the colour blocks one by one in a microscopic way, and repeating the whole process over and over again, adding brushstrokes one by one. Kusama's original way of painting allows her to create an infinitely extended sense of solidity on the canvas. Kusama's unique genius of combining rational thinking and sensual perception is also manifested.

Price estimate:
HKD: 1,800,000 – 2,800,000
USD: 229,300-356,700

Auction Result:
HKD: 2,160,000



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