Along with the polka dots, Yayoi Kusama’s “infinity nets” have defined the artist’s visual production since the late 1950s. Whereas in her polka-dot paintings, in which Kusama marks the canvas with precise marks of paint, in her Infinity Nets she surrounds areas of background in paint, encircling dot-shaped areas. Here, white paint is layered onto the canvas in circles, swirls and loops of various thickness that obscure the dark background into various shades of grey. Up close, the swirling pattern with which Kusama maneuvered her brush is revealed as well as areas that swell in white peaks and crests as paint builds up and accumulates through the process. From a distance, the denser areas of paint coalesce into opaque swaths pin-pricked by black and grey. In other areas, white paint has been applied as a translucent wash, allowing more of the dark background to bleed through. Paint moves in nips and bites across the canvas, a living organism vibrating with the energy of the artist’s attention. Infinity Nets is also the name of Kusama’s 2002 autobiography (translated to English in 2013) suggesting the artist sees the form as a kind of personal emblem. In the memoir, she writes, “My life, a dot: that is, one of a million particles. A white net of nothingness composed of an astronomical aggregation on connected dots will obliterate me and others and the whole of the universe" (Y. Kusama, Infinity Nets: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London, 2013, p. 25).
Kusama began painting Infinity Nets upon her arrival to New York in 1958, painting on supports of enormous size to conjure the sense of vastness. The artist’s representation of infinity imagines endless time and space as a matrix and connects every person and object in the universe. Because of their scale and the quality of their marks, Donald Judd, neighbor and friend for a short time, described the paintings as “massive, solid lace” in his review of the work (D. Judd, “Reviews and Previews: New Names This Month—Yayoi Kusama,” Artnews 58, no. 6, October 1959, p. 17). Regardless of their scale, the paintings present a paradox: the canvas creates a frame that limits the endless expanse suggested by the painting’s title, presenting part of a whole that repeats endlessly in all directions beyond the space of the canvas in the imagination of the artist and the viewer.
This impulse prompted Kusama to begin making installations that enveloped viewers in polka-dotted environments and limitless mirrored spaces to further approach the experience of infinity. Kusama would be an influence on Judd. Museum of Modern Art curator Laura Hoptman writes about how the looping swirls of Kusama’s Infinity Paintings were a bridge between the painterliness of Abstract Expression and the seriality of Minimalism: “These mural-sized paintings, with their tightly wrought, repetitive patterning, relate to the boundary-less "all-over" canvases of Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman, while predicting the more minimal experiments of painters like Frank Stella and Robert Ryman. They differ from both Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist paintings, however, in their sheer obsessiveness" L. Hoptman, “The Return of Yayoi Kusama,” MoMA, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 1998), p. 7).
In addition to its art historical importance, Kusama’s Infinity Nets has profound philosophical dimensions. Mori Art Museum art curator Mami Kataoka connects Kusama’s work to fundamental concepts that underlie Buddhism. “The Buddha stressed the cosmic connectedness of all things as causal interdependence. This way of thinking, which views human existence, consciously or unconsciously, as one part of the whole of creation believes in an invisible connectedness or relationship of cause and effect” (M. Kataoka, “Yayoi Kusama, An Infinite Consciousness Directed at the Cosmos” Look Now, See Forever, interactive website, http://interactive.qag.qld.gov.au/looknowseeforever/essays [Accessed March 2016]). In Infinity Nets, Kusama probes her psyche as one point in an infinite net that extends beyond her in search of connection to the cosmic fabric.