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’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.
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.
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.
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 Nets, Victoria Miro, Mayfair, 1 October – 9 November 2013