Kusama's Early works to Auction at Bonhams

Kusama, one of the most admired female artists in the world, has fascinating works going for auction in May, and we are super excited about it! Most of these artworks have never been seen before and represent a crucial part of Kusama's career. 

Kusama, now 92 years old, moved from Japan to the United States when she was only 29. She barely knew how to speak English at the time, but she believed that she had the talent to become a renowned artist internationally. The truth is: she did it. She moved from Seattle to New York in 1958, which proved to be a boom in her career. Right after moving to New York, she had her first solo exhibition at Brata Gallery (artist-run gallery) in 1959. In this exhibition, Kusama showcased her latest series of white nets, which was incredibly successful.


Donald Judd, an art critic at the time, wrote in a review for ARTNews: 

“Yayoi Kusama is an original painter. The five white, very large paintings in this show are strong, advanced in concept, and realized. The space is shallow, close to the surface and achieved by innumerable small arcs superimposed on a black ground overlain with a wash of white. The effect is both complex and simple." 

In 1959, Abstract Expressionism was popular. Artists were engaging with dynamic body movements, bold brushstrokes and strong patches of colour. At this time, Kusama emerged from the crowd with this series of paintings by opting for minimalist colours and controlled, small movements in large scale paintings. The admiration for her technique was widespread across both art critics and the public, and Judd's comment is a testament of this. Her net paintings were inspired by the swells and the ocean's crests that she saw when she flew over the sea from Tokyo to Seattle. 

Knowing this, we can already see how these net paintings reflect a crucial moment in Kusama's life. 

As all of the later Kusama's works, the Net series explore the overwhelming sense of being tiny in infinite space, both in life and universe- like the tiny collective swells in the sea or the stars in the sky. 

As we mentioned in our previous article, Kusama started to feel concerned for her health in the mid-'60s. She was producing so much work that she would forget about her existence, and her mental health started deteriorating. As she needed treatment but lacked the money to be treated, she offered her early works as a form of payment to one of the only doctors that spoke Japanese in Manhattan at that time, Dr. Teruo Hirose. Both became longlife friends over the course of her treatment. 

Some of these works given to Dr. Teruo Hirose preceded the ethereal white net paintings and are very rare.


Two of these are inspired by the river of her childhood and are painted in a magnetic, earthy red. In these, Kusama acknowledges each tiny pebble of the river, giving them relevance in an overwhelming moving perspective of infinity. Unlike the white net series, this drawing is not static; it moves. It takes the viewer to an imaginary space where we feel the water engulfing layers of nature.


When Kusama flew to the US, she took 2,000 paintings on paper with her, and eight of these will be in this Bonhams auction. This is a unique opportunity to acquire these rare early works. 

This auction takes place on May 12th and follows Dr Hirose's death in 2019, who kept these works during his whole life.

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