Yayoi Kusama: at last a female artist in the global Top 10


The public and collectors all over the world are increasingly infatuated by Yayoi Kusama’s contagious polka dots which seem to have spread throughout the art market. At 92, the artist has become the very first woman in the global Top 10 artists with a best-ever annual auction total from the sale of over 700 lots sold!

A globalized and growing market

Yayoi KUSAMA’s market has changed dramatically over the past 20 years: in 2000-2001, her important works were reserved for American and UK auction houses, which accounted for 78% of her annual auction turnover. The rest was generated in European sales. In 2021 however, 73% of her annual auction turnover has been hammered in various Asian countries where the artist has never been so popular.

Today, as 2021 draws to a close, Hong Kong is Kusama’s largest marketplace after hammering nearly $54 million for her works, i.e. 37% of her auction turnover total so far this year. Japan (her country of origin) and South Korea each hammered 18% and the United States accounted for 13% of her annual total, versus 46% twenty years ago.


 Geographical distribution of Yayoi Kusama’s auction turnover (Copyright Artprice.com)


The competition between countries is fiercer than ever for this major artist whose prices are at new peaks. Her price index has increased by +747% since 2000, so that $100 invested in 2000 in a work by Yayoi Kusama is worth an average of $847 in December 2021.

Another important indicator, the unsold rate, illustrates the balance between supply and demand. In this case, her unsold rate is below 8% whereas the volume of her works offered is higher than ever before. This compares with a global average unsold rate in the art auction sphere of over 30% and it clearly illustrates how much the artist is appreciated at all price levels. Between 1 January and 10 December 2021, more than 730 Kusama works had already found buyers.

Kusama enters the Top 10

In total Yayoi Kusama’s works have generated more than $174 million this year, a historic new record for the Japanese artist and 10 times her auction total 10 years ago!

On the strength of this extraordinary performance – $174 million in 2021 – the “Polka-dot Princess” has joined the year’s TOP 10 best-selling artists at auction, all creative periods and artistic mediums combined (Artprice’s provisional ranking in early December). This is a first for the artist but also for auction market history, since Kusama has become the first-ever woman in this TOP 10!


Yayoi Kusama’s turnover  at auction since 2000 (Copyright Artprice.com)

News: Kusama attracts crowds in Tel Aviv

Every new Kusama exhibition seems to generate new attendance records. This was already the case in 2014 when her work attracted 206,000 visitors in two months to an exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires. In Rio de Janeiro, more than 700,000 people visited the museum in the same year. Since then, her success has not waned; in fact it has grown, with museums taking unusual measures to manage the intensity of demand to see her shows.

As soon as the Yayoi Kusama Museum opened in 2017 (ranked the world’s best cultural attraction by Time Out in 2018), the ticket office was immediately taken by storm with visitor registration saturated for the first two months and visits limited to 50 people in 90-minute slots. The following year, in order to regulate visitor intensity, the Broad Museum in Los Angeles implemented a “Selfie-Rule”, limiting the presence of each visitor inside the installations to 30 seconds.
Yayoi Kusama’s polka dots are currently being shown at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art until 23 April 2022. This is the artist’s first retrospective in Israel and it is hosting over 200 works produced over 80 years in a building with an exhibition area of 3,000 m2. The works include her early paintings and her mesmerizing installations, including four Infinity Mirror Rooms. Visitors are flocking to this exhibition; more than 100,000 tickets had already been sold before the opening in mid-November…