‘My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering with them. They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the center of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me’ (Y. Kusama, quoted in L. Hoptman and U. Kultermann, Yayoi Kusama, New York 2000, p. 103).
With its vast field of grey-white dots shimmering through a gleaming white surface, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets (KWOPH), executed in 2006, is a sumptuous example of the works that precipitated her meteoric rise to international acclaim. First conceived upon her arrival in New York in the late 1950s, the Infinity Nets have been a constant throughout her celebrated oeuvre. Though initially conceived as an elegant riposte to the gesturalism that dominated the New York art scene, the cosmic sublimity of these vast compositions positioned Kusama as heir to the all-over abstract practices of Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. In the subtle, shifting surfaces of the Infinity Nets, Kusama evokes an unfathomable and transcendent space. The seemingly infinite field of dots constitutes the single most important motif in Kusama’s oeuvre, inspired by the hallucinatory visions that the artist suffered from about the age of ten. She described being struck by haunting visions of vast proliferations of dots, nets and flowers that overwhelmed her entire being. ‘My room, my body, the entire universe was flled with [patterns]’, she recalls; ‘my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infnity of eternal time and the absolute of space. This was not an illusion but reality’ (Y. Kusama, quoted in L. Hoptman and U. Kultermann, Yayoi Kusama, New York 2000, p. 36). Alternately suggesting the vastness of the cosmos or the infinitesimal forms of cells or atoms, Kusama’s dots are the ultimate ciphers for the incomprehensible dimensions of infinity. First shown alongside the work of artists including Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni and Mark Rothko, Kusama’s Infinity Nets had a profound impact on the international art scene, presaging elements of the Minimalist movement that took hold in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, they stand as the tour de force of her oeuvre and the ultimate embodiment of her unique aesthetic. It was in 2006, the year of the present work, that Kusama became the first Japanese woman to receive the Praemium Imperiale, one of Japan’s most prestigious international art prizes.
Like her Abstract Expressionist forbears, Kusama’s works are imbued with a profoundly spiritual dimension. ‘By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe’, she has explained (Y. Kusama, quoted in G. Turner, ‘Yayoi Kusama’, Bomb, Vol. 66, Winter 1999). Painting obsessively, sometimes for forty or fifty hours without a break, Kusama has insisted that the process of creating the Infinity Nets was integral to the works themselves, allowing an escape from the physical and psychological hardship she experienced on a daily basis, particularly in her early days in New York. ‘Day after day I forgot my coldness and hunger by painting’, Kusama recalled (Y. Kusama, quoted in ‘Kusama Dot Com’, New York Times Style Magazine, 24 February 2008). Kusama’s subtle variations in the delicate layers of impasto create patterns within the all-over field of dots, which coalesce and drift as one’s vision meanders across the wide expanse of the painting. As we observe the work, the grey-white plane that peeks through openings in the white net of paint recedes, suggesting an immense void beyond the veiled surface. Figure and ground are thrown into confusion in the endless fluctuation of positive and negative space, perpetually oscillating within the viewer’s perception. Alongside her paintings, Kusama’s dots have come mark her sculptures, as well as the objects in her pioneering installations, and even the bodies of the nude performers who took part in her infamous ‘happenings’ of the 1960s. ‘My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering with them’, she recalls. ‘They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the center of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me’ (Y. Kusama, quoted in L. Hoptman and U. Kultermann, Yayoi Kusama, New York 2000, p. 103).