Yayoi Kusama: Should Beginner Collectors Stay Clear?

Investing Guide

The Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is widely regarded as one of the most important living and influential artists of the 20th century.

Yayoi Kusama with recent works in Tokyo, 2016. Photo by Tomoaki Makino. Courtesy of the artist © Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama in 2016

Her significant body of work includes painting, sculpture, performance, and immersive installations, which have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. Kusama is perhaps best known for her immersive installations, such as the Infinity Mirror Rooms, which invite viewers to step inside a seemingly endless space filled with mirrors, lights, and other elements.

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life 2011/2017, Tate Modern Museum

The patterns, dots, and netting motifs that are present in much of her work are used in a repetitive manner and can be seen as a representation of the repetitive thoughts and behaviors associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Kusama has been open about her struggles with mental illness, including OCD and depression. The immersive quality of Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms can also be seen as an expression of her experiences with depression. The endless reflections of light and color within these spaces can evoke a feeling of being trapped or overwhelmed, which is a common experience for individuals with anxiety and depression.

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets painting fetches US$6.8m in 2021

Kusama’s work has been in high demand in recent years, with her pieces consistently selling for record-setting amounts at auction. Yayoi holds records for the highest price ever paid for a work by a living female artist at the time, highest price ever paid for a work by an Asian woman artist, and highest price ever paid for a work by a living female artist at an auction in Asia.

The value of Kusama’s work has been driven by her growing reputation as one of the most important artists of our time, as well as the popularity of her Infinity Mirror Rooms and other immersive installations. Her solo exhibitions, often described as cultural events, continue to draw record-setting crowds, with people lining up for hours or even days to get a chance to experience her work.

Selection of “cheap” Kusama “collectables” on artsy.com

However, there is a lack of affordable investment-grade artworks on the market for beginner and small-time collectors who are interested in Kusama’s work. Some of her less-desirable editioned prints can cost tens of thousands of dollars, which is prohibitively expensive for the everyday collector.

As a result, small collectors may fall into the trap of purchasing open-edition and unnumbered works just for the sake of having a Kusama work. While this may not be a bad thing if you are not interested in the investment side of art collecting and are not spending a large sum of money, venturing into open-edition and unnumbered works increases the possibility of purchasing a forgery or a genuine work that cannot be verified as such, making it essentially worthless. Thus, many of Kusama’s works below US$2,000 are worthless for this reason, including the Kusama scarves and puzzles, which were originally sold at museum stores, which are then framed to present them as “collectible artworks” to unwitting collectors. It is important to note that you will not be able to verify the authenticity of any product, novelty, or non-edition work via the Kusama Foundation.

If you are a beginner collector and are interested in Kusama’s work, it may be better to consider investing in emerging artists who have the potential to grow into a Blue-Chip artist like Yayoi Kusama. You might want to explore the work of Japanese artists such as Yoshinori Mizutani, Nobuyoshi Araki, Makoto Taniguchi, and Shuhei Yamada, as some of their pieces will likely be within your budget.

Alternatively, you might like to check out Masterworks and Yieldstreet to explore art funds that let you purchase shares in million-dollar artworks from Yayoi Kusama, and other Blue Chip artists. Shares start from just $20 in Masterworks, so these options are incredibly affordable even for beginner collectors.

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