According to the pressrelease, this is the first time Kusama has exclusively shown white Infinity Nets in Europe which recalls Kusama’s debut solo show in New York at the Brata Gallery in October 1959. However, these are not the original Infinity Nets but brand new.
From a distance these delicate paintings read as monochromes, but up close their intricate surfaces become visible: small arched semi-circles of white paint almost completely covering the ground of the canvases. On each painting the underlay, a wash of black or grey, is obscured by an intricate network of gestural scallops of paint that combine to form a net. The paintings are characterised by an all-over surface that suggests detailed lattice- or lacework. The nets appear to extend beyond the picture planes, suggesting the potential to expand indefinitely.
The first Infinity Nets Kusama produced in the 1950s and 60s were white although she subsequently also made coloured net paintings. Since these first iterations she has returned periodically to Infinity Nets, and these works have become a touchstone in her practice for over half a century.
Like anything else she is doing these days, the strength of these paintings is supposed to lay on her own personal history. In her autobiography, which has been published in paperback by Tate Publishing last month Kusama describes her first exhibition.
“I debuted in New York with just five works – monochromatic and simple, yet complex, subconscious accumulations of microcosmic lights, in which the spatial universe unfolds as far as the eye can see. Yet at first glance the canvases, which were up to 14ft in length, looked like nothing at all – just plain white surfaces”.
The paintings immediately gained critical recognition and were instrumental in making the artist’s name in New York in the 1960s. Donald Judd, one of Kusama’s earliest and closest friends in New York, was the first collector of white Infinity Net paintings and brilliantly championed the work in his review of the exhibition. The paintings openly display the process of their construction, making evident the obsessive diligence with which they were made. From their earliest iterations, the white Infinity Nets have been produced in intense, protracted bursts of energy. In her early experiments with the form in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kusama compulsively painted nets for hours on end without eating or sleeping. Even today when working on new Infinity Net paintings her focus is single-minded and relentless but as we can imagine, she barely touches the canvas.
The artist has described her Infinity Net paintings as visualisations of hallucinations that have recurred since her childhood. During these episodes her visual field is obscured by an overlay of nets or dots that appear to cover her surroundings. These hallucinations are just one manifestation of psychological ill health that has plagued the artist for most of her life. She describes her primary symptom as a sense of depersonalisation, of feeling removed from reality.
The problem with this show is that it is decontextualised and as such falls into the ornamental, first and second, into the freak show. Back then in the 60s, such work would fall into the minimalist debate. Hence, Donald Judd’s fascination. After her collaborations with Louis Vuitton, that is hardly the case and they end up being decorative. I am so fed up of this woman that I cannot even tell you. Although her practice resists singular characterisation the Infinity Nets have strong associations with several major post-war artistic movements. In the United States, Infinity Net paintings have been contextualised with Minimal and Op painting. Their gestural surfaces also ally them with the work of artists affiliated with Post-Minimalism. In Europe, early Infinity Nets were shown alongside, and discussed in relation to, work by artists in the Zero and Nul movements. Despite their historical resonances, however, the Infinity Nets are not historical artefacts. She wants to make money the same way she makes dots. It is sort of embarrassing.
at Victoria Miro Mayfair
Until November 17th