“The entire canvas would be occupied by monochromatic net. This endless repetition caused a kind of dizzy, empty, hypnotic feeling. (…) My net grew beyond myself and beyond the canvas 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.”
(Y. Kusama quoted in L. Hoptman, A. Tatehata, U. Kultermann, Yayoi Kusama, Phaidon Press Limited, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 103)
Yayoi Kusama’s creativity has no limit: paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, performances, films, poetry and novels. Her protean but consistent work escapes any classification and does not fear contradictory discourses. While Kusama remains viscerally true to expressing her own independent self, her work still encompasses all at once the most significant art movements of the 20th Century; Minimalism in the narrowed use of material, abstract expressionism when taking over the “ all-over" space in painting, Pop art with the aesthetic of common objects such as the pumpkin and her attraction to mass-media and the European movement Nouvelle Tendance with the practice of repetition, making Kusama one of the leading female Post-War artists.
While her performances are socially engaged, bold and provocative and her written works a more private testimony, her paintings act as an embodiment of her mental illness and thus a highly personalized expression of the artist’s inner self. It is during the traumatizing time of World War II that Kusama started experiencing hallucinations, seeing repetitive patterns and dots around the objects. She recalls "The red flower pattern of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I say the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body felt as if I had begun to selfobliterate, to resolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space and be reduced to nothingness." (Yayoi Kusama quoted in Mark Ormond, Yayoi Kusama, Miami Beach, 2002, p. 12). With a monochromatic background and an intricate web of small arched semi-circles the infinity net series exemplifies the double layer reality that Kusama endured through regular crisis since she was ten. Imbued with a profoundly spiritual dimension the Infinity net is a series of paintings that the artist started upon her arrival in New York and remain constant throughout the following five decades of creation.
With its tightly knitted vivid red pattern covering the entire surface of the canvas No. AA2 (Lot 14), painted in 1960, is a dazzling and historical example of the celebrated series. While white versions of Infinity nets translate a meditative feeling, No. AA2’s red pulsates with energy creating the illusion of movements under the eye. Without any beginning or end and rejecting the composition, the all-over quality, an inheritance from Jackson Pollock, is the perfect expression of infinity. The painting exudes the vastness of the cosmos or the infinitesimal forms of the atoms. By materializing her inner self into painting Kusama offers the viewer a window into an infinite world. More than just the representation, her mental illness is also the engine driving the creation as the hallucinations led her to paint compulsively for hours up to forty or fifty hours without eating or sleeping, the act of painting becoming a performance. The hallucinations are therefore the subject and the drive, and the artist and the work become one unique entity. She adopted the habit of being regularly photographed in front of new works, often wearing coordinating outfits. In these photos, the artist and her art become indistinguishable. This manner shows the importance of the artist’s persona in her oeuvre. There lies Kusama’s paradox. She explained "By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe" (Yayoi Kusama quoted in G. Turner, Yayoi Kusama in Bomb, no.66, Winter 1999). Her hallucinations create a confusion between the physical person and the environment, therefore obliterating herself and opening to infinity by breaking physical boundaries. Remains in her work a merge between obliteration and ubiquity.
Escaping a Conservative Japan and her authoritarian mother a poor but ambitious 27 year old Kusama lands in Manhattan New York in the summer of 1958. From this date until her return to Tokyo in 1972 will follow an American decade of personal struggle and a vivid interaction with the American and European art scene. Her first solo exhibition was held in the New York renowned artist-run Brata gallery in October 1959, where she showed the very first Infinity net paintings to the public. One of the first Infinity Nets examples, No. AA2, painted the year after the show testifies of this fundamental genesis time in Kusama’s oeuvre.
Throughout her fifty-year career, her work has had a strong international presence. In addition to representing Japan in both the 1966 and 1993 Venice Biennales, her work has also been exhibited in numerous museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, The National Museum of Modern Art, Toyko, Centre Pompidou, Paris, and Museo Centro de Arte, Madrid. In 2012- 2013 Kusama was also the subject of a major international retrospective that was organized by Tate Modern, London, which then travelled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.