Yayoi Kusama, ‘Beyond My Illusion/Imaginary Flowers of Shangri-La’, 1999, Sotheby's
Yayoi Kusama, ‘Beyond My Illusion/Imaginary Flowers of Shangri-La’, 1999, Sotheby's
Yayoi Kusama, ‘Beyond My Illusion/Imaginary Flowers of Shangri-La’, 1999, Sotheby's

Overall: 59 by 142 7/8 by 6 1/2 in. 150 by 362.9 by 16.5 cm.

Executed in 1999, this work is registered with the artist’s studio and accompanied by an artwork registration card.

From the Catalogue
Yayoi Kusama's celebrated soft sculptures were first unveiled to the world in the 1960s at the height of her whirlwind emergence in the New York art scene. At a group show at Green Gallery in 1962, exhibiting together with rising luminaries Andy Warhol, Robert Morris and Robert Whitman, Kusama produced an armchair and couch completely covered with stuffed phallic protuberances. One year later, her revolutionary Accumulation: One Thousand Boats Show at Gertrude Stein Gallery in December 1963 saw Kusama invading the entire gallery space. Mesmerizing, menacing and mischievous all at once, the alluring power of Kusama's uncanny installation was raved about by the likes of Warhol and American critic Brian O'Doherty, who described Kusama's art as the production of both object and environment.

In Beyond My Illusion/Imaginary Flowers of Shangri-La (1999), Kusama's signature soft sculptures are reimagined as a stately golden triptych, with exquisite flowers nestling within teeming fields of her famous gourd-shaped tubers. Transposed from a horizontal sculpture into a mounted triptych, the unruly protuberances are immortalized and silenced, gaining a grandiose, almost regal quality. The present work is less a sensational shock to the senses than a meticulous slice of the sublime, allowing for a detached contemplation of Kusama's singular sense of the infinite. "I make them and make them and then keep on making them, until I bury myself in the process," Kusama once told an interviewer about her trademark stuffed sculptures, which are representative of her longstanding fear and distaste of the male sexual organ. "I call this process 'obliteration.'"

Peering out from the current lot's sea of glittering protuberances are tiny florets of daisies, chaste and unassertive, counteracting the psychosexual allusions with transcendent touches of whimsy and grace. Kusama's ubiquitous flower motif references her well-documented hallucination as a child; in her autobiography the artist wrote: "One day, when I was a little girl...I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness [...] I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers." (Yayoi Kusama, Struggle and Wandering of My Soul, 1975, p. 2)

A departure from Kusama's monstrous plants and flowers in other works, the humble daisies in Beyond My Illusion/Imaginary Flowers of Shangri-La (1999) evoke the energy of simple, hopeful, personal and artistic growth. Created in 1999, the current triptych emerges from the pivotal and uplifting 1990s era of the artist's legendary career. After an explosive rise to stardom in New York, Kusama retreated into a psychiatric hospital in Japan in 1975, withdrawing into two decades of semi-obscurity whilst quietly amassing an extraordinarily prolific body of work. Kusama's international revival began at the 1993 Venice Biennale when she constructed a dazzling mirror room filled with pumpkin sculptures for the Japanese pavilion, Kusama reminded the world of the enduring brilliance of her aesthetic and ignited her swift and phenomenal rise to immortal stardom. The current lot was created one year after another major milestone: the defining Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958-1968 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1998, which subsequently traveled to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
—Courtesy of Sotheby's

Signature: signed, titled in Japanese and dated 1999 on the reverse of each panel

Fukuoka, MOMA Contemporary, Yayoi Kusama: Beyond My Illusion, March 1999, pp. 26-27, illustrated in color
Kagoshima, Kirishima Open Air Museum, YAYOI KUSAMA Dots Paradise in Shangri-La, September - October 2002, p. 59, illustrated in color
Fukuoka Art Museum, Yayoi Kusama: Beyond My Illusion ‒ Selected Works 1952-1999, May - June 2013

Private Collection, Asia (acquired directly from the artist)
Private Collection, Asia (acquired from the above in 2007)
Sotheby's, Hong Kong, 3 April 2016, Lot 1058
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner

About Yayoi Kusama

Avant-garde Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama was an influential figure in the postwar New York art scene, staging provocative happenings and exhibiting works such as her “Infinity Nets”, hallucinatory paintings of loops and dots (and physical representations of the idea of infinity). Narcissus Garden, an installation of hundreds of mirrored balls, earned Kusama notoriety at the 1966 Venice Biennale, where she attempted to sell the individual spheres to passersby. Kusama counted Donald Judd and Eva Hesse among her close friends, and is often considered an influence on Andy Warhol and a precursor to Pop art. Since her return to Japan in the 1970s, Kusama's work has continued to appeal to the imagination and the senses, including dizzying walk-in installations, public sculptures, and the "Dots Obsessions" paintings.

Japanese, b. 1929, Matsumoto City, Japan, based in Tokyo, Japan