Previously unseen works by Yayoi Kusama achieve $15.2 million at Bonhams

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Previously unseen works by Yayoi Kusama achieve $15.2 million at Bonhams
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Untitled, 1965, oil on canvas. Price realized: $4,590,313. Photo: Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- The previously unseen collection of early works by Yayoi Kusama achieved a total of $15,225,938 at Bonhams’ dedicated 11-lot sale of Kusama: The Collection of the late Dr Teruo Hirose on May 12 in New York. The sale, which was 100% sold, is a world auction record for a single-owner collection of works by Yayoi Kusama. The top lot of the collection was Untitled (1965), which sold for $4,590,313.

Ralph Taylor, Bonhams Global Head of Post-War & Contemporary Art, said: “It has been an honor to bring not just one rare Kusama work, but 11 of them to auction for the first time. The sale results demonstrate collectors’ enthusiasm for Kusama’s work is stronger than ever. We salute the memory and legacy of the late Dr Hirose whose kindness and philanthropy made this possible.”

Bruno Vinciguerra, Bonhams CEO, said, “It has been an enormous privilege to bring these wonderful works to auction. Until they were unveiled in Bonhams’ saleroom, they had never been on public display. I am delighted, but not surprised, that clients from around the globe fought to secure one of these stupendous pieces in this white glove sale.”

The Collection of the late Dr Teruo Hirose, comprised three paintings and eight works on paper, gifted by Yayoi Kusuma herself to Dr Hirose, her lifelong friend and doctor whom she consulted in her early years in New York in the 1960s, when she was a struggling young artist in need of medical aid.

The eight works on paper, executed by Kusama before she arrived in the United States in 1957, are cornerstones of the artist's practice, laying the aesthetic groundwork for her career. Painted when Kusama was in her twenties, the works show the genesis of her Infinity Nets, as well as elements such as polka dots and flower imagery for which she would become celebrated.

Both Yayoi Kusama and Dr Teruo Hirose arrived in the US from Japan in the 1950s. The routes they took in life were very different – one was a trailblazing contemporary artist, the other a skilled medical surgeon and physician based in the Bronx, who was also part of the team pioneering open heart and bypass surgery. However, their paths crossed in New York in the 1960s, when Kusama visited Dr Hirose for medical treatment. Dr Hirose was one of two Japanese-speaking doctors in Manhattan in the 1960s, and he built a reputation within the community providing affordable medical care to Japanese patients after hours. He was especially generous to artists, often treating them pro bono. Kusama arrived in the US with little money, but with everything she felt she needed: 2,000 of her works on paper and 60 silk kimonos which she planned to use in lieu of currency. With one exception, all the works on paper offered in the sale were part of the collection Kusama brought with her from Japan – and which were given to Dr Hirose as gifts in recognition for his kindness in treating her. The pair would become lifelong friends.

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