Born in 1928 in Matsumoto – a city in the Japanese Alps – Kusama was educated in the style of Nihonga painting that combined traditional Japanese ink, on paper or silk, and modern observational drawing from nature. But the young artist was quick to break with the status quo, pursuing instead the advancing Euro-American avant-garde of Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism, before later being embraced by the German Zero and Dutch Nul groups. Her move to New York in 1958, therefore, heralded the arrival of Kusama to the epicentre of artistic modernity, and initiated the first monochrome Infinity Net paintings that are now a staple of her oeuvre. The fastidious process and physical feat of producing the Infinity Nets are central to their reading; working “like the gear of a machine,” Kusama found “[her] self was eliminated, and [she] had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and the absolute of space” (Yayoi Kusama cited in: Laura Hoptman, ‘Infinity Nets’, in: Louise Neri and Takaya Goto, Eds. Yayoi Kusama, New York 2012, p. 62).
Kusama aligned herself closely with the social tides, moving away from the démodé, male-dominated, quasi-spiritualism of modernism, she embraced hippie culture, sexual freedom, and liberalism in the late 1960s. It was her unsolicited participation in the 1966 Venice Biennale that would mark her first appearance at the Giardini, staging her landmark Narcissus Garden upon the lawn of the pavilion in an event that combined the artist’s performative bravura and formal interest in multitudes. The performance – which included 1,500 plastic-metallic orbs, each for sale designated by a banner reading “Your narcissism for sale” – was a demonstrative rebuff to her ostracism from the inner circle of American Pop and the commercial mainstream. Over the course of the next decade Kusama would retreat from the New York art world, returning to her native Japan before taking residence in a psychiatric care home in 1977.
Infinity Nets from 1993 is a chronologically significant painting in the genealogy of Kusama’s Nets, maturing in their finish and diversifying their formal vocabulary; incorporating biomorphic forms, polka dots, and – as in the present work – geometric patterns that evoke a kaleidoscopic mosaic. After a retrospective in New York at the Center for International Contemporary Arts in 1989, Kusama was invited to be the first solo artist to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993; both exhibitions marked her return to the global stage and the beginning of an illustrious chapter for Kusama that has seen her meteoric rise to celebrity status. Sharing this pivotal moment in the artist’s career, the present work exhibits the formal cues that are exemplary of her later Infinity Nets: using sharp, acrylic paint to deliver an exacting method of virtuosic painting that concretises Kusama’s interests in the interconnectedness of the cosmos.
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