Yayoi Kusama’s early-career artworks gifted to her doctor hit auction for the first time

Yayoi Kusama’s early-career artworks gifted to her doctor hit auction for the first time
Dr. Teruo Hirose and Yayoi Kusama pose together in 2007. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.

In the 1960s, shortly after arriving in the United States, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama gifted her doctor Teruo Hirose 11 original works. The collection — made up of three paintings and eight pieces on paper — remained in Hirose’s possession unseen by the public for decades.

Now, for the first time, Kusama’s gift to the late doctor (and lifelong friend) will hit auction at Bonhams New York on May 12. In a statement announcing the sale, organizers billed the occasion as the “rarest group of Kusama works” from the time period between the 1950s and 60s to “ever come to auction.” The collection will go on view at Bonhams’ 580 Madison Ave location in Manhattan April 30 through May 12.

"Untitled," circa 1965. Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.
“Untitled,” circa 1965. Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.

“This is an exceptional collection of extremely rare early works by Yayoi Kusama,” Ralph Taylor, Bonhams global head of post-war and contemporary art, said in a statement. “Not only do these works have an incredible provenance, but they are also extremely significant in Kusama’s oeuvre, expressing many early features and themes which she would continue to explore and develop throughout her career.”

Among the highest ticketed pieces of the lot are two paintings from 1960, labeled “Hudson River” and “Mississippi River.” The works, executed in red paint and speckled in black dots, use the same visual language of serial repetition present in other acclaimed early works, such as her white Infinity Nets series from around the same time.

"Hudson River," 1960. Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.
“Hudson River,” 1960. Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.
"Mississippi River," 1960. Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.
“Mississippi River,” 1960. Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.

Expanding her color palette to create a tunnel of alternating rectangles, the third painting in the collection (“Untitled”), Taylor explains, “demonstrates Kusama’s experimentation during the 1960s, while also foreshadowing her recognizable mirror boxes — where images grow and radiate from a single point.”

Of the paper works in the collection, all but one pre-date Kusama’s move to the United States in 1957 and depict natural themes, like a wispy flower and a single petal.

"Flower Petal," 1953. Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.
“Flower Petal,” 1953. Yayoi Kusama. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.

The paintings are expected to go for $3 million to $5 million each, with the entire lot predicted to bring in between $8.8 million and $14 million.

Kusama, who would go on to become one of the greatest selling female artists at auction, maintained a friendship with Hirose until he died in 2019 at age 93.

Yayoi Kusama at the Staten Island Ferry, circa 1958. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.
Yayoi Kusama at the Staten Island Ferry, circa 1958. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.

The exhibition and auction add to an exciting roster of installations from the superstar artist, including a nature-filled show at the New York Botanical Garden that kicks off April 10 and runs through Oct. 31.

Hirose’s collection of early-career works by Kusama will go on view at Bonhams Hong Kong from April 7 to 22 before traveling to New York for the April 30 to May 12 show. More information about the exhibition and auction can be found here.

Top Image: Dr. Teruo Hirose and Yayoi Kusama in 2007. Photo courtesy Bonhams New York.