Interview with Eric Chang from Christie's Hong Kong on the appreciation of Yayoi Kusama’s enormous triptych 'Buds'

The enormous triptych Buds created by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, also hailed as the Polka Dot Queen, will be offered in the 21st Century Evening Sale at Christie's Hong Kong on 28th May with an estimate of US$2.56 to 3.85 million, making it the spotlight of this season's Hong Kong autumn sales week.

Earlier, The Value was given a chance to visit the warehouse of the pioneering auction house to take a glimpse of the original piece. And we were happy to have Eric Chang, Chairman of Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art at Christie's Hong Kong, to explain in person the appreciation approach of this museum-level artwork.

Eric Chang, Chairman of Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art at Christie's Hong Kong

Lot 61 | Yayoi Kusama | Buds, Acrylic on canvas (triptych)
Painted in 1987
Each: 194 x 130 cm; Overall: 194 x 390 cm

  • Gallery TE, Tokyo
  • Gallery HAM, Nagoya
  • Private collection, Asia (acquired from the above)
  • Acquired from the above by the present owner

Estimate: HK$20,000,000 - 30,000,000 (around US$2.56 to 3.85 million)

Auction House: Christie's Hong Kong
Sale: 21st Century Evening Sale
Date: 28 May 2024

The painting is titled "Buds", meaning the sprouts of seeds. The dots can be interpreted as seeds or tadpoles, which carry a connotation of the prosperity, richness, and perpetual motion of life. These repetitive patterns represent all creatures and also illustrate a kind of uniformity.

This unique piece of artwork can be viewed from different perspectives. Kusama once said, “We are all specks in the universe.” The triptych, completed in 1987, seemingly echoes the artist’s viewpoint.

We can adopt a grouping approach, which is a painting technique that makes the canvas look like a map dotted with picturesque irregularity, when viewing the artwork.

As Kusama said, every single of us is just a speck in the world. Even our planet is a dot only in the universe.

Yayoi Kusama in 1987

We will find out that every dot, or every tadpole, on the artwork actually symbolizes a person. On each white tadpole-like pattern was a very clear and uniform depiction, like one's personality, like a bud. An implied meaning is suggested here that all plants grow in a similar manner, like the way people grow up and mature.

However, people’s personalities are never identical, so if we pay close attention to the details, we can notice the application of each dot differs slightly from one another, like the portrayal of different individuals.

There is a point to note when admiring the artwork. Although the canvas is just painted in two colors, white and purple, it displays some unique effects that are not found in other works. For instance, if we stare at the white tadpole-like patterns for about ten seconds and then shift our gaze to the dark purple background, an afterimage phenomenon will occur, which is not commonly found in other art pieces.

Eric Chang highlights that if we look closely at the details of the painting for a continuous period, an afterimage will appear

Yayoi Kusama | Imaginary of Human Being (triptych) (1987) | Exhibited in the retrospective “Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now” held by the M+ Museum

The work was created under a special background: During that time, Kusama was relatively productive and gained recognition from the artistic community, so she had to travel between New York and Japan, which was rather costly and time-consuming for her.

With a tight financial budget, the Japanese art star invited a collector to take this painting for trade and planned to use the money to pay for her traveling and living expenses in New York. A Japanese gallery owner later acquired the art piece and sponsored Kusama to continue her art career.

Triptychs like Buds are usually created at the request of art museums. For example, Hong Kong M+ art museum owns a similar triptych that was created in around 1987 or 1989. It is generally less common to have triptychs in collectors' collections. Even if we look at Kusama's works, triptychs are relatively rare.