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KUSAMA, Yayoi; Infinity nets

The Infinity nets are among the most celebrated of Yayoi Kusama’s many artistic innovations, and have remained a consistent feature of this pioneering Japanese artist’s practice for 60 years. Kusama first unveiled these paintings in New York in 1959 — at a time when some artists were seeking new directions away from the powerful legacy of American Abstract Expressionism — and today they can be seen as anticipating later developments in Pop, Minimalism and Concrete Art.

The early net paintings were watercolours that bore the title Pacific Ocean, which Kusama produced in an attempt to replicate the ‘shallow space’ created by the waves she observed when flying from Tokyo to Seattle in 1957. In these works, one colour was painted in tight repetitive loops to form undulating nets over a monochromatic ground. On relocating to New York in 1958, Kusama began executing the paintings in oil, and they grew in scale, often covering entire walls, anticipating her later and equally innovative installations. Lacking a discernible centre and disregarding conventions of composition or perspective, these works proposed painting not as the production of modular, autonomous entities, but as objects within the world, or surface-driven three-dimensional forms.

With its highly practised, confident loops, restrained palette and use of acrylic paint to enable quick execution, Infinity nets 2000 is typical of Kusuma’s work made at the end of the 1990s, when she was belatedly embraced by the international art world. Unlike the aggressive mark-making of Abstract Expressionism or the erasure of gesture characterising Minimalism, this work bears the trace of an immense labour consisting of accumulated tiny gestures. The optical effect of its undulating fields owes more to the material qualities of the painted surface than to any illusions of pictorial depth. It is this perfection of affect, as opposed to direct representation, that preserves the work’s origins in the peaks and troughs of oceanic waves.

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Infinity nets 2000


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