"She is an angel blessed with an innocent, rare intelligence and an iron will who has made friends with the devil who has failed to overpower her. Kusama’s simple but complex world is an endless enigma that will always be beyond my understanding."
The enigmatic and enthralling Infinity-Nets (MTTI) is an exquisite black-on-grey monochrome work from Kusama Yayoi’s most celebrated corpus of paintings. The glossy expanse of jet-black darkness, enclosed in a perfect square format, initially exudes an iconic stillness; as the viewer approaches the painting, the impasto of each arced brushstroke picks up light from the shifting surroundings to evince a dynamic, glistening and rhythmically flowing surface. Within Kusama’s widely varied oeuvre, her Infinity Nets are amongst her most visually and conceptually complex: inherent in each painting is the philosophical paradox that ‘infinity’ could be embodied and constrained within the two-dimensional canvas – a paradox that Kusama triumphs over, repeatedly and infinitely, since her incipient Nets from 1959. That year, when reviewing the white-on-black Nets exhibited in Kusama’s first New York solo show, Donald Judd described the paintings as “advanced in concept” and attempted to summarize Kusama’s mechanics as thus: “Essentially it is produced by the interaction of two close, somewhat parallel, vertical planes, at points merging at the surface plane and at others diverging slightly but powerfully […] The strokes are applied with a great assurance and strength which even a small area conveys. The total quality suggests an analogy to a large, fragile, but vigorously carved grill or to a massive, solid lace” (Donald Judd, ARTnews, October 1959). Combining the stark aesthetic of the monochrome with the patterned feminine intricacy of lacework, the present work is a distinguished example that elegantly and concisely encapsulates Kusama’s legendary and celebrated oeuvre.
Kusama’s first Infinity Nets emerged in New York in the late 1950s during a time when Abstract Expressionism was at its peak. In contrast to the grand, boisterous gestures of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Kusama’s delicate brushstrokes – minimal, quietly repetitive and unpretentious – asserted a wholly different category of power. 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 (Mignon Nixon, “Infinity Politics”, in Kusama Yayoi, Tate Publishing, London, 2012, p. 179).
“This was my epic, summing up all I was”, Kusama once remarked. “And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power” (the artist cited in Infinity Net, London, 2011, p. 23). Diagnosed with an obsessional neurosis, Kusama used her art to ‘self-obliterate’ hallucinatory visions through the process of compulsive reproduction of dots and arcs. Her art was that of epic excess, exuding an infinitely self-perpetuating momentum that engulfs and overwhelms even as it entrances and enthralls. In a conversation with Gordon Brown in 1964 the artist declared: “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 centre of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me” (Kusama Yayoi in conversation with Gordon Brown in 1964 in: Laura Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, London 2000, p. 103). Compulsively painting, often for days at a time, Kusama’s high-intensity process is integral to the meaning of her celebrated Nets series: each dot, loop and arc profoundly indexical to her very being. In the artist’s own words: “I had a desire to foretell and estimate the infinity of our vast universe with the accumulation of units of net, a negative of dots. How profound is the mystery of the infinity that is infinite across the cosmos. By perceiving this I want to see my own life. My life, a dot, namely, one among millions of particles” (Frances Morris, ‘Yayoi Kusama: “My Life, a Dot,”’ in Yayoi Kusama Obsesión infinita, exh. Cat., Malba Costantini Foundation, Buenos Aires, 2013, p.193).
Executed in 2010, Infinity-Nets (MTTI) is a mature work from the artist’s oeuvre that employs acrylic paint instead of oil – a critical transition that the artist undertook in the late 1970s as a homecoming return to water-based medium: the artist began her career with Nihonga, traditional Japanese watercolor. 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 arc marking a moment of time passing but not past, Kusama’s laborious technique “exiles narrative in preference to the temporality of enactment”, dilating time and space. A mature and exquisitely rendered reincarnation of Kusama’s original Nets canvases, Infinity-Nets (MTTI) epitomizes the artist’s unique brand of cosmic abstraction and ethereal infiniteness.