“Self-Destruction is the only way out – but, after self-destruction comes Resurrection, a new life of oneness, peace and happiness with the other beings of the Universe.” – Kusama Yayoi
All That Glitters
A scintillating, radiantly resplendent work from Yayoi Kusama’s most iconic and celebrated series, Infinity Nets evinces a sublime duality that pairs the patterned feminine intricacy of lacework with the heroic scale of a Pollock canvas. The painting is a rare gold infinity net: delicate lapses between red polka-dots and the gold colour field activate a shimmering aura that is regal, fiery and seductive. At first glance, the red dots are the obvious top layer, with the alluring gold beckoning from beneath. Upon closer inspection, one detects that Kusama has created the hundreds of tiny dots through a reverse process, where a sea of dexterous arcs of gold are overlaid on a red foundation. The dots emerge through the negative space, resulting in an overall engulfing hue of gleaming orange gold. Created from infinite quiet repetitive strokes, the work pulses with a rhythmically flowing surface that seems to alternately expand and recede from the viewer, evoking the signature hypnotic serenity that epitomizes Kusama’s entire legendary oeuvre.
In the 1950s, Kusama was one of the earliest Japanese artists to venture to New York in the post-war era. The debut of her ground-breaking nets first stunned the art world in 1959, instantly impressing the likes of Donald Judd and other prominent artists and critics, igniting her whirlwind rise to international prominence. Her net aesthetic was one that was neither Western nor Oriental but profoundly unique and personal, as the net motif is inextricably linked to the artist’s mental illness. As a young woman growing up whilst her country was still at war, Kusama was diagnosed with an obsessive-compulsive disorder after suffering from years of powerful hallucinations in which ‘veils’ of dots formed halos before her eyes and eclipsed her sight. In the artist’s own words, “My room, my body, the entire universe was filled with [patterns], my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and the absolute of space. This was not an allusion but reality” (the artist cited in Yayoi Kusama, New York, 2000, p. 36).
Kusama’s hallucinations led her to paint feverishly and obsessively, sometimes for forty or fifty hours without a break, in an attempt to at once give a voice to, and exorcise, her overwhelming visions. The repeated all-encompassing strokes of her nets are thus creations that were cathartic and healing: recalling her early years in New York, Kusama once said that “day after day I forgot my coldness and hunger by painting”. The infinity nets were, for the artist, the only way of connecting to the transcendent, the universal, and ultimately to personal peace and utopia; as Kusama explained: “By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe” (the artist cited in G. Turner, "Yayoi Kusama," Bomb, v. 66, Winter 1999).
After an explosive rise to stardom in New York, Kusama retreated into a psychiatric hospital in Japan in 1975, withdrawing into two decades of semi-obscurity whilst quietly amassing an extraordinarily prolific body of work. Kusama's international revival began at the 1993 Venice Biennale, which re-ignited the artist’s rise to immortal stardom. Executed in 2001, the current lot employs acrylic paint instead of oil—a critical transition that the artist undertook in the 1980s as a homecoming return to water-based medium: the artist began her career with Nihonga, traditional Japanese painting that is a water-based medium. The quick drying time of acrylic attests to Kusama’s heightened ambition as well as skill, stamina and endurance after decades of ceaseless painting. With each brushstroke marking a moment of time passing but not past, Kusama’s laborious technique dilates time and space with an infinite process of focused, efficient and hyperbolic gestures repeated ad infinitum.
From a distance, Kusama’s work may have appeared to mirror the machine-like production and monotonous exercise of the Minimalists; her work is, however, far from dispassionate. To this day Kusama’s oeuvre remains a deeply intimate one, born of her own psyche and irrevocably intertwined with her own personal expression. When asked about the idiosyncratic nature of her infinity nets, Kusama says: “I have no interest in the conventional logic and philosophy of art. I forgot all the theories of composition and colour. This style resulted in empty, nihilistic canvases that the critics did not always understand”. Referring to her lifelong infatuation and allegiance to the motif, Kusama once said: “I guess I came under a spell… the spell of repetition and aggregation. 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” (the artist in conversation with Gordon Brown in Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehata, and Udo Kultermann, Eds., Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, p. 103). A mature and virtuosic reincarnation of such a universal aesthetic, the current lot epitomizes the artist’s unique brand of cosmic abstraction and ethereal infiniteness.