A group of five works by Yayoi Kusama produced within the last 20 years sold on Wednesday for $22.9 million during a Sotheby’s evening sale in Hong Kong, bringing some of the artist’s highest auction prices ever.
Kusama was among the biggest names anchoring two back-to-back sales of modern and contemporary art, which by the day’s end generated HKD $1.52 billion ($192.8 million) and 11 new artist records.
Pumpkin (L), an oversized bronze pumpkin sculpture that Kusama’s studio produced in 2014, sold to a phone bidder on the phone with Nicolas Chow, the auction house’s Asia chairman. The piece went for HKD $62.64 million ($7.98 million), setting a new benchmark for a sculpture by the Japanese artist.
A-Pumpkin (BAGN8), a painting depicting the titular vegetable laden with black dots, brought a high price, going for HK$55.17 million ($7 million).
But it was another work that captured bidding attention: Kusama’s 2018 piece My Heart is Flying to the Universe, a work similar to her famed “Infinity Mirror Rooms.” The piece is a mirrored box with LED lighting; there is a face-sized hole cut into its exterior through which viewers can peer in. Although viewers cannot fully enter the piece, as they can with her popular “Infinity Mirror Rooms,” the piece still sold well, going for HKD $25.9 million ($3.29 million).
The Sotheby’s sale marked the first time a work like this had ever been sold in a public auction in Asia. The piece came from an anonymous seller who, according to the work’s provenance record, originally purchased it from David Zwirner. Bidders registered with Sotheby’s specialists online and over the phone vied for the work, which sold within its estimate for HKD $25.85 million ($3.29 million).
The price paid is among of the highest for a work by Kusama. Her current auction record stands at $10.9 million; it was set by an “Infinity Nets” painting sold in 2022 at Phillips.
At the age of 94, Kusama has reached a new level of popularity on the market. In 2020, writer Greg Allen likened her cult status to something like a “Kusama-industrial-complex” within the gallery and museum world. She is currently the subject of a retrospective at the M+ museum and a widely publicized campaign by Louis Vuitton.
The high prices for Kusama works sold during the auction paint a clearer picture of the Hong Kong market’s current state than the data from the 2022 edition of the UBS Art Basel Report, which was released earlier this week. The market in Asia has been ailing, with China’s strength hindered by a protracted period of restrictive Covid policies that only just recently loosened. Sales in the region were down 14 percent, at $11.2 billion, its lowest figure since 2009.