6 Works That Explain Yayoi Kusama’s Rise to Art World Stardom
From the Catalogue
“In front of paint brushes and canvas, my hands react to them and make my work before I think of anything. Then, when the piece is completed, I look at it, and am surprised by the result—always."—Yayoi Kusama
A scintillating, enthralling work from Yayoi Kusama’s most iconic and celebrated series, Infinity-Nets OPYTSDB (Gold) from 2007 evinces a duality that pairs the patterned intricacy of lacework with the heroic scale of a Pollock canvas. Delicate lapses between pink polka-dots and gold color field activate a shimmering aura that is regal, fiery and seductive. At first glance, the pink dots are the obvious top layer, with the alluring gold beckoning from beneath. Surprisingly, upon closer inspection one can see that Kusama has created the hundreds of tiny dots through a reverse process, where she has actually painted webs and nets in gold paint on top of a pink foundation. The dots emerge through the negative space, essentially the small holes of the net. Kusama constructs a net that gradually unfolds across the canvas, spreading a veil of stunning confusion and visual interplay over the pink bedrock.
Over her long and prolific career the infinity net pattern of ceaseless polka-dots has become a metonymic identity for Kusama herself. Plagued by neurosis since she was a child, Kusama first began painting infinity nets as images of her hallucinations and the apparent “veil” of dots that formed halos before her eyes and eclipsed her sight. Thus the infinity net pattern began as a compulsory release and reflection of her emotional psychology. Throughout the years, however, the polka dots have ceased to merely represent Kusama; now, the pattern has wholly absorbed Kusama, and she it. A natural, effortless osmosis has taken place, fusing symbol and artist into an inseparable identity and insoluble solution. Kusama and her dots alike are an international famed icon—a powerful, sought-after brand that has proliferated the art, design, fashion, media and entertainment worlds.
Kusama grew up in Matsumoto City, Japan while the nation was at war. During her adolescence in Japan, she began to experience hallucinations and fits of madness that would eventually evolve into a lifelong mental illness that became the powerful engine behind her astonishing productivity and a main theme of her art. When Kusama moved to the United States in the late 1950s and emerged on the New York art scene during the 1960s, one can imagine the young artist’s instinct to contextualize and align her work within the artistic developments of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism. Certain trends and parallels emerge; for example, Kusama’s scale and all-over abstraction style reflects the progress of the Abstract Expressionists. Her kitschy imagery feels instantaneously pop. The detached rote automatism of her working method attracted the attention of minimalists and the affirmation of Donald Judd. Rather than attempt to narrow or cater her style to any one of these emerging movements during the sixties, Kusama remained zealous and true to her own genius. From a distance her work might have appeared to mirror the machine-like production and monotonous exercise of the Minimalists, but her work was far from dispassionate. Indeed to this day her work remains deeply intimate, born of her own psyche and irrevocably intertwined with her personal expression.
During those initial years in New York, Kusama struggled immensely and threw herself entirely into her work, painting for days at a time with minimal breaks from the canvas. Kusama’s dot obsession emerged from her illness and also sustained it, cultivating inside of her an inescapable drive toward work and production that involved days upon days of painting dots over thousands of feet of canvas. 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 with the nets, Kusama remarks: “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. I was standing at the center of obsession” (the artist in conversation with Gordon Brown in Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehata, and Udo Kultermann, Eds., Yayoi Kusama, London 2000, p. 103).
Some might interpret the relationship between Kusama’s illness and her work by saying that art is a coping mechanism. Yet is seems apparent that for Kusama, art is much more than coping—it is survival and self-affirmation. Through her work, she commits to a continual, neurotic cycle of self-negation by which she removes, then replaces herself with her pattern, which is the DNA by which she asserts her very existence—a beautiful, arresting Descartian-type cogito ergo sum proclamation of “I am.”
—Courtesy of Sotheby's
Signature: signed, titled and dated 2007 on the reverse
Robert Miller Gallery, New York
Leanne Hull Fine Art, La Jolla
Acquired from the above by the present owner in February 2007
Avant-garde Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama was an influential figure in the postwar New York art scene, staging provocative happenings and exhibiting works such as her “Infinity Nets”, hallucinatory paintings of loops and dots (and physical representations of the idea of infinity). Narcissus Garden, an installation of hundreds of mirrored balls, earned Kusama notoriety at the 1966 Venice Biennale, where she attempted to sell the individual spheres to passersby. Kusama counted Donald Judd and Eva Hesse among her close friends, and is often considered an influence on Andy Warhol and a precursor to Pop art. Since her return to Japan in the 1970s, Kusama's work has continued to appeal to the imagination and the senses, including dizzying walk-in installations, public sculptures, and the "Dots Obsessions" paintings.
Japanese, b. 1929, Matsumoto City, Japan, based in Tokyo, Japan
6 Works That Explain Yayoi Kusama’s Rise to Art World Stardom
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