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One Of The World’s Most Important Artworks Was Discovered In New Zealand. It Is Going Under The Hammer At Webb’s.

“Love can now be free, but to make it completely free it must be liberated from all sexual frustrations imposed by society.”

– Yayoi Kusama

An extremely rare artwork by Yayoi Kusama has been discovered in New Zealand. A second-hand collector acquired the work many years ago. It was amongst a portfolio which also consisted of vintage posters and screen prints. Recognising the value of the piece, they chose to hold on to it until a call for entries to an upcoming auction turned their mind to selling.

“I got a shiver down my spine the first time I saw it,” says Webb’s Head of Art Charles Ninow, “I knew I was looking at something incredibly special”. Webb’s bought the artwork to the attention of the Yayoi Kusama Foundation in Tokyo, who were very excited about the discovery. After an expert assessment, the Foundation authenticated and registered the work. Webb’s has been supplied a certificate of authenticity (registration 04063), which now accompanies the piece.

39 . Yayoi Kusama | untitled | 1970 | ink on paper | signed YAYOI KUSAMA and dated 1970 in ink upper right; signed YAYOI KUSAMA and dated -70 in ink lower left | 760 x 560mm | EST . $100,000 - $200,000

The artwork carries a presale estimate of NZD100,000 - 200,000. However, strong international interest could push it much higher. Yayoi Kusama’s top price at auction is USD7.1 million (Christies, 2014). Yayoi Kusama was one of the world’s ten most traded artists at auction this year and she is the top-selling female artist of all time.

Yayoi Kusama is unquestionably the world’s most important living female artist. She began her exhibiting career in New York in the 1960s, where she exhibited alongside heavyweights like Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Claus Oldenburg and Donald Judd. She is now 91 years old and is still making art. Her immersive ‘mirror room’ installations are exhibited around the world and attract long queues where-ever they are shown.

Kusama was born in Japan in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929. She moved to New York in 1957 and stayed until 1973, when she moved back to Japan. Kusama’s move home was in part motivated by her disillusionment with the lack of professional success she experienced in comparison to her male counterparts. In 1977, Kusama committed herself to a mental institution where she remains to this day.

During her time in New York, Yayoi Kusama presided “the first Homosexual Wedding ever to be performed in the United States.”¹ Taking place in in a New York loft, in November 1968, Kusama designed the wedding costume for the couple: a single ‘gown for two.’ The artwork offered for sale at Webb’s is particularly significant because it features the word GAY delicately scribed between two figures joined by interconnecting lines. While her performances/happenings of the late 60s directly addressed marriage equality, it is rare for her drawings and paintings to do so. Kusama’s artworks are some of the earliest examples of western visual art to directly address and champion marriage equality as a human right and are therefore profoundly important.

The work is included in Webb’s current Works of Art catalogue. The auction is scheduled to take place on Monday 23 November 2020, 6.30pm (NZT). The sale also includes masterpieces by New Zealand artists like Tony Fomison, Don Binney, Colin McCahon, Bill Hammond, Michael Smither and Pat Hanly. The sale is expected to generate a total turnover well in excess of NZD $1 million.

To view the full Works of Art catalogue and results post auction, visit: https://bit.ly/3pDKBqa

¹Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net, trans. Ralph McCarthy (London: Tate Publishing, 2011), 126.

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