Yayoi Kusama

The pumpkin is to Yayoi Kusama what the Campbell’s Soup can is to Warhol: an everyday comestible elevated to the status of fine art, via a singular artist’s skills and vision. She has created pumpkin sculptures and paintings, pumpkin infinity rooms, pumpkin charm bracelets and pumpkin polka-dot print shoes.

The pumpkin first appeared in Kusama’s work in 1946 when she exhibited Kabocha (Pumpkin) in a travelling exhibition in Nagano and Matsumoto, Japan. The work was accepted as a fine example of Nihonga, the new, nationalistic style of traditional Japanese painting, which developed around the turn of the nineteenth century. Images of pumpkins have stayed in her practice throughout her career with a somewhat anthropomorphic presence.

In the 1980s she began incorporating pumpkins into her dot-motif paintings, drawings and prints, as well as into her environmental installation Mirror Room (Pumpkin) that she created in 1991 for an exhibition at the Fuji Television Gallery and the Hara Museum in Tokyo. Kusama subsequently exhibited in the Japanese Pavilion at the 1993 Venice Biennale, for which she even handed out little takeaway pumpkins to visitors.

In 1994, Kusama installed a massive pumpkin sculpture in yellow with a black dotted pattern on Naoshima Island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea region. The work, which was the first of many notable examples of public art and architecture on the islands, sits at the end of a pier at Benesse Art Site, hovering over the water in harmony with the natural landscape. This was the first of the many open-air sculptures that Kusama would increasingly display throughout the 2000s at international sites in locations as varied as Japan, France, California and Seoul. The pumpkins have reappeared in the past few years, cast larger than life in bronze, mosaic and stainless steel, with apertures cut out of their surfaces to create dot-pattern plays with light and shadow. With its jolly, peaceful presence, the pumpkin is a figurative, almost bodily, form.

"I love pumpkins," the artist explained in a 2015 interview, "because of their humorous form, warm feeling, and a human-like quality and form. My desire to create works of pumpkins still continues. I have enthusiasm as if I were still a child.”

Text abridged from Catherine Taft's Kusama monograph published by Phaidon

Yayoi Kusama (b.1929)
Acrylic on canvas
7 x 5 ½ in : 18.0 x 14.0 cm
Framed Size
13 ¼ x 10 ½ in : 33.5 x 26.7 cm
Signed, titled and dated on the reverse: 'Yayoi Kusama 1991 かぼちゃ'
Whitestone Gallery, Tokyo
Private Collection, Japan
Est-Ouest Auctions Co., Ltd, their sale, 28th November 2016, lot 130
Private Collection, Europe
This work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the Yayoi Kusama Studio
Available for sale, please enquire for price
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