Kusama’s immersive work, “All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins,” is on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami from Oct. 12 through Jan. 31. The 2016 installation includes a “mesmerizing array of Kusama’s signature spotted pumpkins within a mirror-lined room illuminated with LED lighting.” Incidentally, the Collection of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula is listed as the lender of a work by the global art phenom Yayoi Kusama.

We are pleased to bring a work that has been popular with museum audiences around the world to our Miami community for the first time,” Tommy Pace, the museum’s deputy director, said in a statement.

The museum notes that the exhibition is supported by the Inigo Philbrick Gallery.

Yayoi Kusama — All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016

German Investments in Pumpkin Art

The problem is that somebody else says they own the painting. German art investment firm Fine Art Partners sued Philbrick and his gallery last month alleging breach of contract and seeking the return of $14 million of art he purchased on its behalf, including the pumpkin room.

Philbrick and the firm were partners in buying, marketing and selling art from at least 2015, according to the suit, which was filed in October 2019 in state court in Miami-Dade County (the case is FAP GmbH v. Philbrick, 2019-027931-CA-01, Florida Circuit Court, Miami-Dade County). Fine Art Partners bought the Kusama for $3.3 million in 2017 through Philbrick, who was authorized to store, market and resell the work for the target price of $5 million; it was picked up from Phillips auction house in New York and insured by Philbrick for $4.6 million, according to court filings.

Saudi Arabia: a Cultural Destination

An agreement with the Institute of Contemporary Art, dated Sept. 11, states that the Kusama is on loan to the museum from an entity called MVCA in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and lists Collection of the Royal Commission for Al-Ula as the lender’s name for labels and publications. On a separate note, the commission is a Saudi government entity that oversees development in Al-Ula. Turning the kingdom into a cultural destination is part of a high-profile agenda outlined by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudis bought the Kusama about six months ago, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. It’s unclear whether Fine Art Partners was aware of the sale of the Kusama to the Saudis. An email Philbrick sent to Daniel Tumpel, a principal of the firm, the same day as the loan agreement didn’t mention the sale, according to court papers.

“The installation will remain on view as planned through January 31, 2020,” the museum’s Pace said in a statement. “The work is on loan to the museum from a private collection. We were not aware of the dispute when the exhibition was planned, but it appears to be an issue between the previous owners.”

As for the exhibit itself, the museum’s website says it’s the first time one of Kusama’s “infinity mirror rooms” is on view in Miami. Visitors will have to pay $15 for a timed ticket to contemplate the myriad of pumpkins for about a minute.

In Lawsuit Over Avant-Garde Art

The lawsuit — filed in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County on October 4 — concerns a group of works that Miami dealer Inigo Philbrick and his gallery are allegedly withholding from Fine Art Partners (FAP), a Germany-based financial services company specialized in the art market.

FAP is seeking the return of its artworks, which Philbrick had been charged with selling. FAP financed the purchase of the artworks and alleges that it retains sole ownership of them. The complaint alleges that the works are being kept in Miami at Philbrick’s gallery and an art storage facility called Artmoves Florida, and that Philbrick has “refused” to return the works.

Much of the complaint centers on contracts that were struck between FAP and Philbrick. Because the contracts were allegedly breached, the complaint states, FAP’s owners have been “deprived” of their artworks and their monetary value.

Legal Concerns within Art Market

Art market is generally poorly regulated.

This case confirms a popular lack of transparency reportedly raised by market participants over the past years. A loan to the museum from a private collection is gradually becoming a cat-in-the-sack issue which may entail dramatic legal consequences and implications. There might be a question of a proper due diligence exercise on the museum's side, and an obligation to disclose information about third parties' rights to the art object on loan, on the lender's side.

Yayoi Kusama and her Obsession with Pumpkins

Yayoi Kusama was born on March 22, 1929, in Matsumoto City, Japan. At the age of 10, she began experiencing hallucinations that would often involve flashes of light, fields of flowers, dots, and pumpkins speaking to her. These hallucinations would appear so vividly to her that they would seem to come to life and engulf her. It was around this time that she began to paint, probably as a psychological response to her hallucinations and fears. Her first ever painting featured an image of a Japanese woman in a kimono that had completely been covered in a sequence of dots and nets. This polka dot patterning was to be featured a lot in her artwork later on for decades to come and later even covered entire buildings4 or museums.

Yayoi Kusama has consolidated a name for herself for her genius and innovation. As one of the most highly sought after artists of her generation, this Japanese artist has been long known for attracting massive masses to her incredible exhibitions. The demand for tickets to her various global shows and exhibitions is so great that fans are often forced to book their tickets months in advance. Not only is the 90-year-old artist a hit with the crowds, but she also enjoys great success in the red-hot art market, which is a fact that has been enhanced even further due to her famous international retrospectives. Also regarded as the most expensive artist of the years 20142 & 2016, Kusama’s contribution does not just stop in the art world.

Because of her immense talent and accomplishments, she continues to even out the gender imbalances that characterize the art world so that more living female artists can reach new heights in art-market appreciation. Today, her works can be found in enviable collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, and in The Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others.

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama in costume in front of pumpkin painting

Photo: Noriko Takasugi

 

A polka dot-covered orange and black Pumpkin mirror room by Yayoi, originally shown at The Japan Pavillion, The 45th Venice Biennale, 1993 (Venice, Italy)

Installation view at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark

 

Yayoi Kusama — A Dream I Dreamed, Seoul Arts Centre, 2014

 

Yayoi Kusama — Pumpkin, 2018, Victoria Miro, London

 

Yayoi Kusama — Pumpkin (detail), 2018, Victoria Miro, London