The two artists met in the late 1950s. In the fall of 1959, Kusama had her inaugural New York solo show at Brata Gallery. There, she unveiled early pieces from her ongoing “Infinity Net” series: allover abstract compositions built from small white circles that are repeated in dense repetition. Judd, who’d recently been hired as a critic at ARTNews, reviewed the exhibition.
The first lines of the article (a delightfully smudged, handwritten draft of which is housed in the Judd Foundation archives) read: “Yayoi Kusama is an original painter. The five white, very large paintings in this show are strong, advanced in concept and realized. The effect is both complex and simple.”
That might seem like understated praise, but it’s a “rave review in Judd language,” explains Flavin Judd, Judd’s son, who curated the Kusama exhibition at the Foundation. (In homage to the Brata Gallery show and its impact on Judd’s work, the installation here also pulls from the white “Infinity Net” series, albeit later versions made between 2014 and 2017.)
Judd, a father of Minimalist art, was just getting his start in the late 1950s, and Kusama’s Brata Gallery paintings struck him. “They helped him find a way through his work—and a direction out of representational painting,” explains Flavin. “He starting to make his flat plane paintings around the same time.”
Judd even scored a painting from the show—for $200. “Donald Judd was my first close friend in the New York art world and he was the first to buy one of the pieces in the exhibition,” Kusama wrote in her autobiography.