Thursday, 20 June 2013
Yayoi Kusama - Infinity Nets
Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生 or 弥生 Kusama Yayoi , born March 22, 1929) is a Japanese artist and writer. Throughout her career she has worked in a wide variety of media, including painting, collage, sculpture, performance art and environmental installations, most of which exhibit her thematic interest in psychedelic colors, repetition and pattern. A precursor of the pop art, minimalist and feminist art movements, Kusama influenced contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Although largely forgotten after departing the New York art scene in the early 1970s, Kusama is now acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan, and an important voice of the avant-garde.
As a child she had experienced hallucinations, often in the form of fields of dots, which were to become central motifs in her art, with her own interpretations of her work drawing heavily on this personal mythologizing. She produced large paintings known as Infinity Net Paintings, such as No. A. B. (1959), which consisted of the repetition of small looped paint marks. These paintings were received enthusiastically by artists such as Donald Judd, who saw her work as reflecting the emerging Minimalist aesthetic.
Catherine M. Grant
Kusama described her Infinity Nets as paintings "without beginning, end, or center. The entire canvas would be occupied by [a] monochromatic net. This endless repetition caused a kind of dizzy, empty, hypnotic feeling." These "nets" are an accumulation of connected, though individually applied, crescent-shaped brush strokes of thick paint. Generally, these marks curve in the same direction while gradually shifting up, down, left, or right. They compose themselves into congregations that swell and ebb across the painting. These groups of unique gestures are organized around points of tension and release. The closest comparison to their structure may be found in nature, where visible matter clusters around invisible points of gravity. The result is a design that is neither random nor systematic. Kusama's Infinity Nets remind one of a river in which the rise, fall, and direction of the glistening surface is shaped by the topography of the riverbed.
This diffusion of opulent monochrome paint across the painting is systematically interrupted by small openings in the net, organic variations of circles and ovals through which the underlying canvas is manifested. The crux of the Infinity Nets is the literal and perceptual exchange between the materiality of the painted net and the pictorial space behind or caught within the net.
Off-cut of Infinity Net painting, 1960
In May 1961, Kusama showed a group of her white Infinity Net paintings in a solo exhibition at the Stephen Radich Gallery in New York. This exhibition featured the largest painting she had made to date, a massive canvas measuring almost ten metres wide. The work was taller than the gallery’s walls, and she had to trim a section off the bottom to enable the work to fit in the show.
After the exhibition this large canvas was cut down into smaller canvases and these gradually dispersed to various collections. However, Kusama kept the off-cut and used it in a performance in upstate New York that was filmed for Kusama’s Self-Obliteration. In the film, Kusama is seen unrolling the offcut on a country lane, creating an apparently endless strip of white against the brown earth.
In 1970 Kusama was photographed with the offcut on a New York rooftop. In the image she poses in jeans and a t-shirt with a stars and stripes motif, her name spelled out on the ground behind her.
When she returned to Japan Kusama took the offcut with her, and it has remained in her former apartment in Tokyo.
The net paintings developed out of a small canvas called Pacific Ocean 1958, which the artist produced in an attempt to replicate the effect of the waves she saw rippling below her on her flight from Japan to the United States. Their palette was severely restricted, with one colour painted in tight repetitive loops to form undulating nets over a monochromatic ground, often as simple as one shade of white on another. The scale of the works was also remarkable for the time, often covering entire walls to the point that they appeared like walls themselves, anticipating Kusama’s later and equally innovative installations. Lacking a discernible centre and obeying no known law of composition, they proposed painting not as the production of modular, autonomous entities, but as objects within the world — paintings as surface-driven three-dimensional forms.
Her ‘Infinity Net’ paintings were the focus of Kusama’s first few solo exhibitions on the United States east coast between 1959 and 1961, and marked her arrival at the forefront of the Avant-garde in New York. Enveloping the viewer and suggesting the possibility of infinite expansion into space, they anticipated the turn to Minimalism by some six years. That they were extremely popular with her young artist peers of the time (Donald Judd and Frank Stella both purchased works) suggests the degree to which they contributed to later developments in art.
However, unlike the aggressive mark-making of Abstract Expressionism or the erasure of gesture characterising Minimalism, Kusama’s paintings bear the paradoxical trace of an immense labour consisting of accumulated tiny gestures. Their dazzling optical effects and apparent reference to nothing more than their materials and the process of production was more in keeping with the Concrete art of European artists like Lucio Fontana and the Dutch Nul group, with whom she would become associated throughout the 1960s — one of the few American-based artists to do so.
It is possible to see Kusama’s signature polka dots as already present in these paintings, as the negative space left between the loops of the netting. The influence of the paintings’ surfaces can also be detected in the undulating fields of Kusama’s soft sculptures, mirror rooms and psychedelic canvases. That the artist continues to produce her ‘Infinity Nets’ is testament to their centrality in her practice.