Yayoi Kusama’s artwork is some of the most expensive on the market. The average value of Yayoi Kusama's artwork has experienced a 11% growth over the last 5 years, with the typical price paid for a print now reaching £28,138.
As the highest—selling living female artist, when Kusama’s prints, sculptures and paintings go under the hammer, they break auction records. The highest price ever paid for a Yayoi Kusama painting was achieved as recently as May 2022, when Untitled (Nets) (1959) sold for a staggering £8.5m at Phillips' New York 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale.
Kusama's enduring popularity, active schedule of retrospectives and collaborations, and influence make her a highly sought-after artist in the secondary market. Her prints maintain a consistently high value, demonstrating their continued appeal to collectors and art enthusiasts alike. This article explores the most expensive Yayoi Kusama pieces sold at auction to date.
Executed in the year her famed Infinity Nets series was born, Kusama's 1959 Untitled (Nets) defines her mastery of abstraction. Kusama proceeds with her preoccupation and fascination with dots in this painting, displaying an interminable expanse of dotted patterns against a white background. "And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power," Kusama said.
This oil on canvas fetched £8.5 million during the 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale auction at Phillips, New York, exceeding estimates of £4-5.7million.
Created during Kusama’s time in New York, Interminable Net #4 belongs to a body of work known as the Infinity Net paintings. Kusama attributes the inspiration for these artworks to a view she once had from an aeroplane window, where she ‘saw ever expanding nets on the ocean’. Indeed the layered, painterly effect created across the surface of this canvas is evocative of ripples across water. Interminable Net No.4 sold for HK$62,433,000 (£6,056,250) at Sotheby's Hong Kong in April 2019, among the highest values ever achieved for a Kusama artwork on the secondary market.
Kusama’s 2013 work Pumpkin (LPASG) shows a bright yellow gourd covered in black polka dots on a dark, fractured background. The dots are a trademark motif of Kusama’s, appearing throughout her work on naked bodies, across canvases and even in the artist’s own clothing and hair. Here, they both map out the contours of the three dimensional object and ‘obliterate’ its form, making it not one object but the sum of infinite elements. In December 2021 this artwork sold for HKD$62,540,00 (£6,013,295) at Christie's Hong Kong, one of the highest values achieved by any of Kusama’s works on the secondary market.
Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin sculpture stands at 180cm high by 180cm wide. Its yellow surface is covered in the artist’s trademark polkadots, expanding and contracting around the curves of the giant vegetable’s form. Kusama uses polkadots to ‘obliterate’ form and space, and when used on this scale the sculpture becomes an all consuming, immersive experience for the viewer.
Signed and dated ‘Yayoi Kusama 2017’ within one of the black polkadots, this artwork achieved HK$55,450,000 (£5,347,542) at Christie's Hong Kong in 2021, one of the highest prices for any of of Kusama’s artworks at auction.
Kusama’s 2010 artwork Pumpkin (Twpot) sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2019 for HK$54,460,000 (£5,282,837).
The pumpkin, now an image synonymous with Kusama’s practice, first appeared in the artist’s work as a sculpture in the early 1990s. Here, the pumpkin exists as a two dimensional work on canvas. Depicted in yellow on a dark background, the pumpkin is adorned with polka dots which fluctuate in size, mapping the contours of the gourd and breaking up it’s surface. The polka dot, another of Kusama’s trademark visual references, has appeared in her artwork since childhood.
Sold in June 2019 for NT$ 198,560,000 (£4,982,466) at Ravenel International Art Group, Taiwan Pumpkin is one of many iterations of the same subject matter found throughout the artist’s body of work.
Kusama’s pumpkins rose to notoriety when she produced Mirror Room (Pumpkin) for the Venice Biennale in 1993, an immersive installation containing thousands of miniature pumpkin sculptures. They have since appeared in both painted works and sculpture. This painting shows a yellow gourd covered in the artist’s trademark polka dots in black, though unusually, the gourd sits against a plain coloured background, whereas in other works the background is as detailed and patterned as the subject matter.
Kusama’s No. Red B belongs to the artist's series titled the Infinity Net paintings, a body of work inspired by the surface of water. Usually executed in one or two colours the texture of these artwork mirrors ripples, repetitive and rhythmic; at almost two metres tall No. Red B envelops the viewer in a sea of red and black. Kusama has said “the universe is full of nothing, ever expanding and ever destroying itself, just like a drop that falls in water”. The artwork sold for HK$54,520,000 (£4,639,106) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in October 2015.
Yayoi Kusama talks of a childhood memory where she finds herself standing in one of her parent’s flower meadows. Surrounded by flowers as far as the eye could see, she describes the experience as ‘being obliterated by flowers’, a sensation she strives to replicate through her artwork, particularly through the use of polkadots. In A Pumpkin SKLO Kusama depicts a pumpkin, it’s surface covered in these trademark polka dots, against a dark coloured, similarly broken backdrop. A Pumpkin SKLO sold at Christie's Hong Kong in May 2021 for $HK50,650,000 (£4,607,630).
Yayoi Kusama’s White No. 28 sold at auction at Christie’s New York in November 2014 for US$7,109,000 (£4,481,512). Painted in shades of white and grey, the artwork belongs to a series of work created by Kusama while she was living in New York, known as the Infinity Net paintings. Kusama said ‘I'm obsessed with nets, they cover me, strangle me. They fascinate and haunt me’. The repetitive painting technique seen in this artwork is said to be born of an obsessive compulsive neurosis, triggered by the artist’s childhood trauma.
Produced during the time Kusama spent in New York, Lake Michigan belongs to a series of artworks known as the Infinity Net paintings. Kusama’s first decade in New York was fantastically productive and saw the creation of not only these paintings but her ‘soft sculptures’ and also a series of immersive ‘happenings’ which were performance pieces, often involving nudity.
Common to many of Kusama’s artworks is the simultaneous sensations of expansion and destruction, like ripples across the water's surface. This artwork is covered with familiar, repetitive marks common to other paintings in this series, however, here Kusama strives to make an additional visual, painted reference to the appearance of waves. Lake Michigan sold in May 2017 for US$5,300,000 (£4,104,850) at Sotheby’s New York.