Abstract Critical

Yayoi Kusama – White Infinity Nets

Written by Natalie Ferris

Yayoi Kusama Installation, Yayoi Kusama. White Infinity Nets, At Victoria Miro Gallery, 14 St George Street, London, W1, 1 October – 9 November 2013 Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama Installation, Yayoi Kusama. White Infinity Nets, At Victoria Miro Gallery, 14 St George Street, London, W1, 1 October – 9 November 2013 Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama

What happened to white noise? Did it just blank out, this flat static, turned away by the digital age?  Or is it still out there, a buzz-field held between crossed signals?  It seems to have found its home in gallery spaces – most explicitly in the ‘master of interference’, Hari Kunzru’s unruly droning screens and criss-crossing circuitry– but also in the translucent panelling and gauzy white faces of London’s current art fair displays. 

Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY NETS [AIG], 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 194 x 259 cm, 76 3/8 x 102 in, (KUSA 894). Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY NETS [AIG], 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 194 x 259 cm, 76 3/8 x 102 in, (KUSA 894). Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama’s piqued white paintings exude no noise at all. A different tone entirely from her louder hallucinatory installation work, famously allied to her unique, polka-dotted ‘KUSAMATRIX’, the delicate paintings in this show command a curious quiet. And yet, amid pin drops, palette pricks,her surfaces resonate rather than obscure, incite rather than suffocate. The intricate chains of piqued white paint may mask murkier grey swashes of paint beneath, but they also form mercurial nets that pinch into tangible forms and visions. Ten canvases, all of which were completed earlier this year, here form the inaugural exhibition at Victoria Miro’s new discrete Mayfair space, a converted bank office on St. George Street. Serving as a nod to her similarly muted debut show in New York at the Brata Gallery in October 1959, this body of work is another iteration within her repeated returns to the Infinity Nets series, now considered to be a ‘touchstone in her practice for over half a century’.  Shown exclusively for the first time in Europe, these enigmatic paintings sit well upon the starchy display panels and within the sensitively lit rooms of the gallery, seemingly as demure as the space itself.

Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY NETS [MAE], 2013, Acrylic on canvas 130.3 x 130.3 cm, 51 1/4 x 51 1/4 in, (KUSA 904), Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London, © Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, INFINITY NETS [MAE], 2013, Acrylic on canvas
130.3 x 130.3 cm, 51 1/4 x 51 1/4 in, (KUSA 904), Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London, © Yayoi Kusama

Yet these ‘subconscious accumulations of microcosmic lights’ belie a kind of frantic painterly exposition, a keen eye for the spooling possibility in pattern, and were always produced at points in Kusama’s career of ‘intense, protracted bursts of energy’. There is no flat static to be observed; these canvases open themselves to both painter and viewer in the search for some kind of feedback. The tiny gestural scallops of paint build to form undulating patterns, eddying whorls which shift and merge at angles. Visions of clouds, waves, leaves, appear through the tightly wrought loops, billowing and shifting as one moves from room to room. The brushstrokes often extend beyond the bounds of the canvasses themselves, stretching out over the lips of the frames, out of the picture plane, amounting curlicues that could continue to appear indefinitely.

Yayoi Kusama Installation, Yayoi Kusama. White Infinity Nets At Victoria Miro Gallery, 14 St George Street, London, W1, 1 October – 9 November 2013. Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama Installation, Yayoi Kusama. White Infinity Nets At Victoria Miro Gallery, 14 St George Street, London, W1, 1 October – 9 November 2013. Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama

The second room houses the only installation piece in the show, as a fitful diversion to the three frittered canvases lining the facing walls. Solitude of the Earth (1994) was created almost two decades before the accompanying work, and it retains a certain mustiness in its appropriation here. The scene consists of a china cabinet, table and chairs set for tea, overlaid with tightly coiled metallic white netting.  A harsher webbing than its painted counterpart, reminiscent of chicken wire, it seams to every surface, wrenched into place and engulfing the table like a sharp-edged doily.  There is less of the whimsy of the resplendent canvases here, less of their ‘subconscious’ impulsiveness, more of a Miss Havisham moment.

Yayoi Kusama INFINITY NETS [FBB], 2013, Acrylic on canvas 130.3 x 97 cm, 51 1/4 x 38 1/4 in, (KUSA 898), Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama INFINITY NETS [FBB], 2013, Acrylic on canvas
130.3 x 97 cm, 51 1/4 x 38 1/4 in, (KUSA 898), Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc., Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore and Victoria Miro, London © Yayoi Kusama

This is unfortunate, as the cobwebbed crevices of Charles Dickens’s Satis House speak of despair and decay, whereas Kusama’s painted nets speak of the possibility of spooling form, and,by extension, the possibility of spooling thought/life/love/imagination – in the obsessive rigour of their imagisticstipples. Championed by Donald Judd in the 1960s for precisely this commitment to presenting her own disrupted internal experience, a mind both fettered and frittered with dots, her consistent return to this series reveals these paintings as the ‘purest expression of her artistic manifesto’.   A subdued arrival here exhibited, then, for Kusama as she enters her ninth decade, but one which is no less attuned. 

Yayoi Kusama – White Infinity NetsVictoria Miro, Mayfair, 1 October – 9 November 2013

  1. Tania said…

    Luke, in answer to your question it may be that the work of the native australasian peoples has not (thankfully) become divorced from its roots, whereas ours (and in this context ours would include Yayoi’s) has. To quote from ‘The Prehistoric Rock Art of England’:-

    ‘England (and the rest of Britain and Ireland) is unique in that, unlike elsewhere in Europe, the overwhelming majority of art from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods is entirely abstract.’

    The art of the native peoples of Australia and the South Pacific is not ‘contemporary’, it is traditional and so retains a timeless quality. It is often insisted upon that ‘abstract art’ began in Western Europe c.1900 which is historically inaccurate depending upon the definition of ‘abstract art’. There has been a severe break in tradition in Western Europe which, as a consequence perhaps, has produced a desire for revolution and uniqueness in abstract expression which is probably neither desirable or achievable.

    Kngwarreye’s work is tremendous, and for me at least, outranks Yayoi’s.

  2. martin said…

    nice post, its incredible whay she does!
    i found more videos of yayoi kusama arts,
    Heres the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgn_hCtQLHQ&list=PLe3vyrEPg5cVSDzfPHjUKWArj5J6r5qt8&shuffle=292

  3. Luke Elwes said…

    Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets strike me as both visually captivating and critically problematic. It is hard to think of another contemporary artist who would be celebrated for so precisely reiterating the work that first brought her to the attention of the New York art world 54 years ago. The rules of abstract modernism that normally apply – of discernible progress and development in concept and execution – are here suspended. Is this because of her ambiguous status as the ‘outsider’ artist operating inside the art world? Or because of her exceptional status as an ‘eastern’ artist whose work appears to intersect with western concerns?

    The spare, pulsing, repetitive and monumental quality of her Infinity Nets were initially identified by Donald Judd and others as exemplifying the developing East/West dialogue that informed the Zen minimalism of late 50’s and early 60s American abstraction (alongside Reinhardt, Martin, Irwin and others). Later on they came to mirror other concerns, both artistic and cultural, ranging from the psychological study of obsessive behaviour and mental illness (illustrating the new fashion for ‘outsider’ art) to the aesthetic exploration of ‘white noise’ in an electronic age and the current fascination with generating depthless and infinite fields in a virtual world.

    Yet through all this her cosmic landscapes remain the same, continually repeating and returning to their own starting point. They are ‘out of time’ in the same way that native Australian art is; both apparently belonging to an abstract tradition and yet remaining apart, subject to their own laws and meanings and seemingly immune to standard critical judgement. There is clear visual overlap between her Infinity Nets and the work for example of Uta Uta Tjingala and Emily Kame Kngwarreye (particularly with her astonishing ‘Big Yam Dreaming’) in the current RA survey of Australian Art – so why is it exactly that their work continues to remain separated by cultural otherness while Kusama’s seemingly does not?