Hypnotic Infinity Nets
“I was always standing at the center of the obsession,
over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me”
Kusama exhibited her first Infinity Net paintings in New York in 1959. Employing the minimal repeated gesture of a single touch of the brush, Kusama’s revolutionary paintings responded critically to the emotionally and semiotically charged brushstrokes of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Albeit a relative novice to oil painting at the time, Kusama was able to at once firmly grasp and radically redefine the medium in bold defiance of gestural abstraction, meting out the ecstatic masculine gesture into dainty increments and forging a sophisticated feminine aesthetics of obsession and repetition.
Replacing the expressive gesture with an exhaustive one, Kusama’s meticulous and labor-intensive methods literally pushed painting to its limits. The New York art scene was fascinated, with critics describing her work in oceanic terms: “huge” in scale and composed of “innumerable small arcs”, like waves. Diagnosed with an obsessional neurosis, Kusama used her art to “self-obliterate” hallucinatory visions through the process of compulsive reproduction of dots and arcs. Kusama’s intensive artistic practice became her most effective form of self-therapy, a way of escaping her own mind by transcribing and enacting the infinite repetition which haunts her.
Gentle ripples of white, scalloped forms billow over the surface of this large canvas, enveloping both the viewer and the artist in the concept of the infinite. Expanding and contracting with a steady pulse, the circular nets cover the monochrome gray background, and with varied densities and translucencies, these infinity nets establish a spectacular sense of pictorial space. Composed without entry or endpoints, Infinity-Nets is a spellbinding mindscape. From a distance, the painting appears weightless—free of the constraints of form, color, and composition. However, with proximity, the obsessive and painstaking application is unveiled. Honed through intense concentrated periods of work, the minute motion employed by Yayoi Kusama produces the artist’s desired effect of monumentality. Here, Yayoi Kusama harnesses the manmade—the painted circle and dot—to quantify the abstract concept of infinity.
Infinity Nets (TOWZ), 2005
Acrylic on canvas
91.1 x 116.8 cm (35 7/8 x 46 inches)
Infinity-Nets visualizes Kusama’s ardent belief that “everything—myself, others, the universe—would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulations of dots. White nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness” (Y. Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London, 2011, p. 23). The looping brushstrokes, an expression of self-obliteration, fuse together to create a continuity of whiteness. When viewed in totality, the overlying segments of netting undulate much like a wave, rhythmically rising, receding, crashing and cresting.
Transcending its sheer physicality, the painting motes a disquieting sense of religiosity and rituality. Cathartically melding the observable, the phantasmal and the spiritual, the artist deliberately obliterates the picture plane. With each stroke of the brush, Yayoi Kusama poignantly asks: “How deep was the mystery? Did infinite infinities exist beyond our own universe?” (Ibid.). In painting her unique forms, Kusama depicts the undepictable through ritual multiplication. The result pulsates with imagined power, projecting the artist’s utopic rendering of the unknowable.
Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre is indelibly marked by her lifelong obsessional neurosis. Her Infinity Nets, debuted in a 1959 exhibition at Brata Gallery in New York, are a pervasive example of the artist’s deliberate refiguring of her hallucinations into artistic creations. Simultaneously formidable and fragile, Kusama’s stark white Infinity Nets gained recognition for their subtle grandeur, and painterly execution. Donald Judd, evaluating the artist’s work through the lens of an art critic, noted: “There is a remarkable variety of configuration and expression from point to point across the surface; the small curves coalesce into longer arcs, swell or shift slightly, or form amorphous patterns or partial vertical bands…The total quality suggests an analogy to a large, fragile, but vigorously carved grill or to a massive, solid lace” (D. Judd, ‘Reviews and Previews: New Names This Month—Yayoi Kusama’, ARTNews, 58, no.6 (October 1959), p. 17).
Original Infinity Nets, 2000
Acrylic on canvas
72.7 x 60.4 cm (28 5/8 x 23 7/8 in.
Adopting the gestural process inherent to Abstract Expressionism along with the monochromatic restraint of Minimalism, Yayoi Kusama forms her Infinity Nets. Deliberately painting canvases “without beginning, end, or center,” she occupies the entire picture plane with lush, circular strokes (Y. Kusama, quoted in “In conversation with Gordon Brown,” in L. Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, p. 103). The artist’s practice is inherently performative; through a flurry of concentrated activity, a material rendering of infinity is fashioned. Reflecting on her creative impulses, Kusama states that “Painting, which is powerful enough to wrap up the whole universe, not to mention the earth, is Kusama’s Infinity Nets. I will probably continue to paint this endless web, which I have worked on for the past 40 years. Yayoi Kusama is unchangeable…I can neither stop my existence nor escape from death. This is my way of living and dying” (Y. Kusama, quoted in Yayoi Kusama: Recent Oil Paintings, exh. cat., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo, 1998, n.p.).
Throughout the past half-century, Yayoi Kusama has self-obliterated her hallucinations though artistic expression, gaining international recognition as a pioneer of contemporary art. The artist’s absorbing, sensual, hypnotic body of work has become a subject of public intrigue with her exhibitions receiving both critical and popular success around the world. Amongst her many contributions to 20th century art—drawings, paintings, immersive installations, site-specific performances, fashion, film and literature— her Infinity Nets have come to define the artist’s provocative identity. Infinity-Nets is an arresting example of the artist’s visually complex and psychologically laden series. Executed at the pinnacle of Yayoi Kusama’s career, this painting illustrates the artist’s tireless quest to express the infinity of the universe while coming to terms with her individual reality. Examples from Kusama’s Infinity Nets are held in renowned museum collections such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other pre-eminent institutions.