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Kusama is a Japanese artist, a brilliant obsessive. Her work has been well regarded in the U.S. since the heyday of pop art. Christopher Burge, Christie's chairman, who was conducting the auction, coaxed the bidding up past four million dollars.

"It took a while. But I got there," he told the room, all avuncular charm, as the bidding resumed. "Four million nine hundred thousand … Five million dollars." There was an outbreak of clapping. "Five million one!"

At this, the final bid, the clapping became tremendous. There was cheering, and somebody hollered "Woohoo!" Clapping signifies that an artist's auction record has been broken, here for a work by a living female artist. The room pulsated with relief.

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Kusama’s theme is repetition. Her ‘Air Mail Stickers’ [1962], consists of over 1,000 of the post office seals pasted onto a 181.6 x 171.5cm canvas. The inexactly-executed rows and columns in the piece - which forms part of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s permanent collection - create a dizzying trompe d’oeil. Like Kusama’s ‘Infinity Net’ and polka-dot-field work, ‘Air Mail Stickers’ anticipates Andy Warhol’s use of repetition. "After Warhol came to my ‘1,000 Boat’ show, he called to ask permission to use my patterns in his silkscreens," recounts Kusama from her Tokyo studio. "But I refused. I had been working with repetition for years by that time, ever since my 1959 exhibition at the Brata gallery." Kusama leans forward and smiles, "Warhol’s repetitions came from me - But my repetitions came from my childhood."

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