The Infinity Net motif is of unparalleled significance to Yayoi Kusama’s career. It is evident in everything she creates, becoming her brand, her logo. It is based on her hallucination, while plagued by depersonalisation neurosis. Arriving in New York in 1958, the Infinity Nets were the first paintings that she made. Soft white swoops and coils blanket the canvas in a shimmering, gauzelike web. Their simplicity resonated in a city enthralled by the canonical movements of Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Pop, as well as Kinetic Art and the European Nouvelle Tendance. Kusama’s art is, however, transcriptions of hallucinations as highly personalised expressions of her persona.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, after moving back to Japan, Kusama returned to painting with a new dynamism and on a scale unmatched since the Infinity Nets of the early 1960s. Painted in 1989, Infinity Nets Q.N.I (Lot 58) inexorably explores the lyricism of the individual mark that fills Kusama’s canvas with rich palette of bright colours. Streams of black weaves in a mesmerising geometrical structure similar to quasicrystal, suspended in the space of green background that glows with a sumptuous radiance. The visually evocative composition telescopes a gamut of biological forms - from an astrophysical landscape to a microcosm of cells - in a series of poetic correspondences. Forsaking a single fixed focal point, it is rendered compositionally ahierarchical. An endless expansion of visual field seems to linger on the threshold of our perception. It exudes tranquillity and equilibrium, wielding a hypnotic enchantment upon the viewer's gaze.
The incessant handmade quality of the making of the net is both meditative and neurotic. Kusama describes the process as physically driven by forces beyond her control, threading away between restriction and freedom. Painting fanatically, the artist insists the process of creating the Nets was integral to the works themselves. She recalls her early experiences in New York as being very difficult, saying that "day after day I forgot my coldness and hunger by painting". Compared to her earlier Nets paintings from the 1960s, Infinity Nets Q.N.I painted in acrylic has a consistency of pattern that could pass for a stencil. While they too have an ophthalmic dazzle, it is created by the juxtaposition of processed colours and their complements with a silent flatness. It is a balance between geometry and light.
The work is a conduit for the spiritual potential of art, to do with the incongruity of forms and formlessness. In light of Kusama’s interest in the esoteric and spiritual, the colour and simple compositions is reminiscent of other artists’ exploration of the sublime in art such as Agnes Martin and Barnett Newman. Untitled #15 (Fig. 1) is dense with gestural markings and traces of the artist’s hand. In their purity, the canvas suggests a spiritualism that reflects the artist’s interest in nature and Eastern philosophy. The metaphysical understanding was heavily explored in Newman’s Onement V (Fig. 2), whose dramatic vertical zips act as a counterpoint to Kusama's net. Art hereby is released from its preoccupation with beauty and centering it upon the search for truth.
By using a simple net that annulled the complications of orthodox space, Kusama creates works that seek the infinite expanses of sublime and transcend the physical world. It is the artist's spiritually orientated concept of the material revivification of the immaterial, aiming to highlight this transmutative facet. As she explains, “I wish to foretell and measure the infinity of a boundless universe from my location with the accumulation of a quantum of a mesh of the net as a negative of each polka dot.” Here the two patterns are untied as one. It suggests a universe of infinity which comprehends life and death. "By obliterating one's individual self, one returns to the infinite universe". With its dizzying monotony and labour-intensive complexity, the making of the work is paradoxically artistic as transubstantiation through which the physical self is removed only to be re-asserted in the artist’s unsystematic pattern, as diverse as those found in nature, and as personal as a signature. It presents an unstable and intermediate condition including both order and disorder.
The essence of Kusama's artistic legacy is to have condensed sensations derived from the universe into pictorial fields. She is trying to work beyond representation, above all, the accepted notions of abstraction and figuration. She has produced worlds so infinite, antipodal yet consonant.