Kathryn TullyKathryn Tully Contributor


Photo: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

The big news from the contemporary art auctions in London last week was the new price record at auction for Gerhard Richter. Richter, once the most expensive living artist in the world before Jeff Koons was given that title, is now being feted for setting a new benchmark price for any living artist in Europe.

Paintings by Yayoi Kusama, who holds the auction price record for any living female artist, also had a pretty good week. Two Yayoi Kusama paintings offered in London easily exceeded their pre-sale estimates. Her yellow and black Pumpkin painting from 1990 sold at Phillips for a hammer price of £170,000, or £206,500 including buyer’s premium, well above the high estimate of £70,000. Two days before that, herInfinity Nets (KWOPH) painting from 2006, estimated to fetch up to £350,000, sold at Christie’s for a hammer price of £400,000, or £482,500 including the premium.

The incredibly successful world tour of Kusama’s restrospective, which attracted such large crowds before it ended last month in Mexico City that Museo Tamayo had to hire extra security staff, her extremely popular gallery shows, and her high-profile collaborations with luxury brands have ensured that the artist is never short of media attention. Nevertheless, the market value of her work gets far less attention than Koons or Richter.

Kusama not only became the world’s most expensive living female artist after setting a new price record at auction last November; 2014 as a whole was the best year ever for the Kusama market. The turnover of her paintings, sculptures and prints at auction, which have climbed steadily for the last few years, reached a record $34.6 million in 2014 for a total of 510 lots, according to Artprice. That was considerably more than the $28.3 million fetched for 579 Kusama lots in 2013, which means that the average price of her work at auction is climbing, along with the volume of sales.

Her artist price index on Artprice (based on the average auction price of her comparable work by Kusama) was up 26% in 2014. Compare that to Takashi Murakami, the most commercially successful living Japanese artist. More than $4 billion of Murakami’s art changed hands at auction last year, so there was clearly a lot more supply available, but his Artprice price index dropped 9%. Another sign of the strong demand for Kusama: less than 11% of her art that came to auction last year didn’t sell.

This Kusama painting sold for £206,500 in London last week, well above the high estimate of £70,000. (Image source: Phillips)

Kusuma’s vibrantly colored, polka-dotted canvases and sculptures and mesmerising installations are huge crowd pleasers, but her ground-breaking, mostly-white Infinity Net paintings that she completed in New York in the late 1950s and 1960s are the top sellers at auction.

The price record for a Kusama painting was set last November at Christie’s in New York when White No. 28, from 1960, sold for $6.2 million, or $7.1 million if you include the buyer’s premium. The second highest price for a Kusama painting at auction was for  No.2  from 1959. That painting sold in November 2008, also at Christie’s in New York, for a hammer price of $5.1 million, or $5.8 million including premium. According to Artprice, Self Obliteration (1966-1974) set a record for a Kusama sculpture when it sold at Christie’s New York in 2011 for just over $1 million, including buyer’s premium.

Will the price of her work continue to climb? In a market where Kusama’s top auction sale to date was one eighth of the $58.4 million that Jeff Koons’s Balloon Dog (Orange) fetched in 2013, the record price for any living male artist, it seems like there’s room for growth, but the next test will come in New York next month.  Christie’s will include Kusama’s Infinity Nets TWGZ painting from 2005 in its First Open sale of Post-war and Contemporary Art on March 6, with an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000.

 Buy Kusama Soft Sculptures HERE for $275!

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