Yayoi Kusama Soft-Sculptures From the Collection of Agnes and Frits Becht Coming To Phillips New York 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Phillips will be selling two significant early works by Yayoi Kusama from the collection of Agnes and Frits Becht, which will be featured in the New York Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art. To be offered for the first time at auction on 17 May, the internationally renowned pair of soft-sculpture works, Blue Spots and Red Stripes, are some of the earliest known examples of Kusama’s famous tuberous forms, jutting from the frame, employing her iconic red and white color scheme alongside the polka dots that now define Kusama’s career. The two works will be on view from 6-17 May at 432 Park Avenue.

Jean-Paul Engelen, President, Americas, and Worldwide Co-Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, said, “Agnes and Frits Becht are among the most influential European collectors of the twentieth century, having championed the emerging artists of the time, who would go on to become the most enduring artists in all of post-war and contemporary art. They held a particular affinity for the works of Yayoi Kusama, with these two artworks being among the six that the family purchased from the Internationale Galerij Orez in 1965. Since then, they have been exhibited extensively across the world – from Los Angeles to Berlin to Tokyo. Following the auction in May, they have been requested for the upcoming exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, opening this fall. As the record holders for a work by Kusama at auction, Phillips is proud to include these important works in our Evening Sale, as they are offered for the first time in nearly sixty years.”

Kusama moved to New York City in the late 1950s to establish herself as an international artist, but found greater success with European artists and audiences at first. While working in the Netherlands, Kusama created Red Stripes and Blue Spots for the 1965 exhibition, Facetten van de hedendaagse erotiek 1 (Facets of Contemporary Eroticism), with Internationale Galerij Orez, The Hague.

Red Stripes and Blue Spots caught the eye of Agnes and Frits Becht, who purchased three of the artist’s works from the gallery that year, including Chair, 1965, which is now in the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Japan.  A fourth accumulation work, gifted by the artist to the couple to express her gratitude for their patronage, and two collage works, purchased soon after, rounded out the Bechts’ collection. In 1967, the Bechts bought an entire shipping container of Kusama’s work, sight unseen, which was stuck in customs in the UK.  Agnes remembers bringing the shipping container to the family home on a summer afternoon, and spreading all nearly forty works out on the grass in the back garden. It was an overwhelming, even transcendent experience. “It was so beautiful, I think I must have died from it,” Agnes shared, recalling the moment. It was as if one of Kusama’s infinity rooms landed in the Bechts’ backyard; they were completely immersed in Kusama’s world. Their support of Kusama was early and strong, and it had a great impact on the artist’s ability to continue to exhibit work in Europe for the rest of the 1960s.

Kusama’s signature soft-sculptural shape grew out of her development of the infinity net motif in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The undulation of the two-dimensional infinity nets expands into three dimensions in the tuberous shapes of Red Stripes and Blue Spots, as the eye scans across the varying heights and widths of the forms. Blue Spots and Red Stripes are some of the earliest extant examples of the artist’s soft-sculpture motif of tuberous forms that smother the surface.


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