The nets were a physical and psychological obsession for Kusama. The webs of repeating, undulating nets filled her canvases first – a reaction to an old memory of a floral tablecloth in her childhood home that proliferated in her mind, filling the entire room and threatening to swallow her up. The Infinity Nets later began to cover surfaces of clothing, furniture and sculptures, creating immersive environments that seem to be a product of Kusama’s own obsessive mind. She remarked, “I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. As I repeated this process over and over again, the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me, clinging to my arms and legs and clothes and filling the entire room. I woke one morning to find the nets I had painted the previous day stuck to the windows. Marveling at this, I went to touch them, and they crawled on and into the skin of my hands.” (Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net – the Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London 2011, p. 20)
In the late 1960s, Kusama began staging public Happenings around New York City. Often explicitly sexual and involving nudity, these performances elevated Kusama’s sudden notoriety. Just a year or two later, however, Kusama decided to return to Japan to bring her radical performance art to her native country. The hypersexual Happenings that Kusama staged in Tokyo in 1970 and 1971 were widely condemned and even ignored by the Japanese public. Over the next several years, she traveled between Japan and the US, feeling estranged from both her native home of Japan and adoptive home of New York. Though she had spent many years in both places, she did not fully belong to either culture. Her otherness and cultural alienation defined her life in both countries.
In 1973, Kusama left New York for good. Experiencing continued hallucinations and mental breakdowns, Kusama checked herself into the Hospital for the Mentally Ill, a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo where she still lives today. The hospital provided a sense of security that encouraged her creativity, ushering in an era of prolific and voracious art-making. She returned to many themes and series of her work in the 1960s, including Infinity Nets.
The present work, Infinity Nets 1960, is partially titled 1960 on the reverse of the canvas, yet it was painted almost two decades later circa 1979. The beautiful, undulating fields of red nets emulate the early paintings in composition by design; in her newfound isolation and stability of the psychiatric hospital, it was a comfort to revert to her familiar, celebrated style. The present work is one of very few canvases from this period done in her signature Infinity Nets style and titled 1960. This particular body of work is extremely rare to market and is a singular, defining moment in her vast body of work. Compared to her extreme productivity in the 1980s and onward, these first few years in the hospital between 1975-1979 show Kusama returning to her roots in this series of Infinity Nets.
The marked change between the early Infinity Nets and the present series is the change of materials from oil to acrylic. What may seem like a minor swap changed the overall impression of the paintings, altering the viewer’s attention from the surface to the image itself, and allowing the nets to overwhelm and proliferate in new ways. Altering her materials was a way to experiment with new textures, yet stay true to her signature aesthetic. By revisiting subjects of her earlier career and backdating her work, Kusama references her most commercially successful work in order to draw attention to the recognition and strength of her brand. In a similar manner to Andy Warhol rounding out his career in the 1980s by repeating imagery from his best known early paintings in his Retrospective series, Kusama’s return to Infinity Nets later in her career is a comment on her own fame. During a moment when she felt forgotten, returning to her iconic motif reminded herself and the world of her relevance.
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