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A Century of Art: The Gerald Fineberg Collection

Infinity Nets (Z.A.B.)

Infinity Nets (Z.A.B.)
signed, inscribed and titled 'Yayoi Kusama 1961 Infinity nets Z.A.B.' (on the reverse); signed again, inscribed again and titled again 'Yayoi Kusama 1961 Infinity Nets Z.A.B.' (on the stretcher)
acrylic on canvas
13 3⁄8 x 20 7⁄8 in. (34 x 53 cm.)
Painted circa 1979.
Private collection, Japan
Jason McCoy, Inc., New York, circa 1999
Stephen Mazoh & Co., circa 2002
Private collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2011
Further details
This work is accompanied by a registration card issued by Yayoi Kusama Inc.

Brought to you by

Julian Ehrlich
Julian Ehrlich Associate Vice President, Specialist, Head of Post-War to Present Sale

Lot Essay

Circa 1979, Yayoi Kusama executed Infinity Nets (Z.A.B.) – an entrancing spectacle featuring mesmerizing, infinite patterns. Set against a black backdrop, a maze of intricately undulating vibrant red lines electrifies the canvas, intensifying the visual perception of depth.

After forging the beginnings of her career in Japan, Kusama set her sights toward the United States. During the crucial 1960s decade, amidst the genesis of the contemporary art market, Yayoi Kusama resided in New York, skillfully navigating the emerging ideologies of the then “new” art market. It was in October 1959, a year and a half after her relocation, that Kusama held her first solo exhibition at Brata Gallery, a respected cooperative known for championing second-generation abstract expressionists. This exhibition featured five mural-sized white monochrome canvases covered densely with swirling chains of small circular marks known as Infinity Nets.

The show received exceptional praise from artists, collectors, and critics alike— sculptor and then critic Donald Judd wrote “Yayoi Kusama is an original painter” (Donald Judd, quoted in D. Judd, "Local History: Donald Judd & Yayoi Kusama,” ARTNews, September 1959). Despite employing the Infinity Net motif in her earlier works dating back to 1948, the Infinity Net paintings represented a departure from her previous style with their limited palette and repetitive, all-over pattern. Interestingly, Kusama retrospectively named these works Infinity Nets after her return to Japan in 1973, when she contemplated her artistic journey from a temporal remove.

The influence that these early years in New York had on Kusama’s is suggested through the inscription ‘1961’ on the reverse of the present lot. The late 1950s and early 1960s years came to signify a pivotal moment in not only her career and recognition as an artist, but also her aesthetic language through the development of the motif she would become most celebrated for.

The deliberate intention behind Kusama's Infinity Nets was to counterbalance the emotionalism found in Abstract Expressionism. The repetitive quality, non-relational arrangement, and perceived profound detachment of the series played a significant role in attracting the interest of nascent Minimalists like Donald Judd and Frank Stella, who acquired paintings from her earliest exhibitions. The repetitive nature of the series, combined with their distinct composition, held a certain allure, creating a sense of intrigue within the art world. Infinity Nets as a body of work demands close observation, begging viewers to gaze obediently at each slightly varied brushstroke. Kusama’s use of repetition, often deployed as a way to find inner peace and assuage the hallucinations she experiences, is nothing short of sublime.

During the era of post-war rehabilitation, numerous artists, like Kusama, faced challenging times, finding solace and inspiration in their own unique artistic journeys. Kusama, who transformed her personal journey of experiencing hallucinations into creative impulses, embarked on a path marked by repetitive motifs and the process of obliteration. Infinity Nets (Z.A.B.) similarly exhibits pulsating pigmented loops that repeat themselves to create the captivating illusion of negative space. Despite her description of her brushstroke as “mechanical,” and of the paintings themselves as “empty,” one does not have to believe that Infinity Nets are direct transcriptions of hallucinations in order to understand them as highly personalized expressions of the artist’s persona. However, it is evident that the Infinity Nets series stands as the quintessential embodiment of Kusama's body of work.

Kusama's development of the infinite, monochrome, all-over aesthetic, while unique to her, also resonated with her contemporaries, such as Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, and members of the German group ZERO. In 1960, a young Kusama received an invitation to participate in the group exhibition Monochrome Malerie at the Morsbroich Musuem. At the exhibition, Lucio Fontana showcased his significant Tagli (‘cuts’) paintings, which involved perforating two-dimensional surfaces to explore the concept of infinity, which he referred to as an infinite dimension. In contrast, Kusama pursued the conceptual essence of infinity through her practice of "self-obliteration," grounding herself in the surface plane with repetition, seeking to capture the infinite nature of eternal time and the absolute vastness of space.

Moreover, Infinity Nets (Z.A.B.) exemplifies Kusama's critical response to the emotionally charged brushstrokes of her abstract expressionist predecessors, showcasing a process of creation that is both meditative and obsessive.

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