(Born in 1929)
Wave in Venice
acrylic on canvas
53 x 45 cm. (20 7/8 x 17 3/4 in.)
Painted in 1988


Kusama's lifelong mental instability began in her childhood due to hefty conflicts with herself and her parents. Growing up with a physically abusive mother, she developed hallucinatory symptoms at very young age: staring at a red flower that would start to multiply or gazing at her mother's freckles, built the basis for what later became her work's signature themes of flowers, nets and polka dots. Her extreme mental state, unconventional ideas and elaborate fantasy worlds translate into a greatly personalized visual language that she uses to create paintings and sculptures of her obsessive vision. Fuelled by her primary practices of repetition and accumulation, her oeuvre displays her immensely detailed patterns.

In Wave In Venice (Lot 505) she integrates polka dots into the strained patterns of infinite wavy shapes, creating an intense symphony of complementing shapes and colors. Forming a dizzying visionary illusion, the composition evokes Kusama's psychological fragility. The agitating compact space in her work disorients the viewer, provoking a disquieting feeling of vertigo as he struggles to recognize the object of the painting, but is constantly distracted by the overwhelming intensity of color and accumulation of shapes and dots: We must forget ourselves with Polka dots! We must lose ourselves in the ever advancing stream of eternity! - Yayoi Kusama.

But despite this seemingly irrational intensity, her color application reveals her sophisticated knowledge of the theory of color and her awareness of its effect on the viewer: On a creamy-colored background, she uses complementary colors - red and green - to intensify the feeling of agitation and movement. At the same time, she reveals traits of therapeutic mannerism in her labor-intensive painting technique of creating rhythmic and repetitive shapes and dots. Her capacity to convert her psychomatic frailty into powerful artistic means, displays her deep intellectualism and make her accessible to a young generation of artists who, like Kusama, often use art as a means of expressing emotions that display psychological complexity. Kusama's superior versatility has also manifested itself in highly diverse momentous activities such as body paint performances, fashion shows and anti-war demonstrations. She represented Japan at the Venice Biennial in the early and mid 60s, as well as in 1993, '98 and '99. She has also received several awards for her film Kusama's Self-Obliteration and the Literary Magazine Prize Yasei Jiadai.