Kusama's Infinity Net series marks the beginning of a radical shift in her work from the singular abstract, biomorphic forms she painted during her youth to the more obsessive, repetitive works that would define her career. They also showcase the way she used art to process her mental illness. We can see through her own words, a sense of what these paintings accomplished for the artist: "With just one polka dot, nothing can be achieved. In the universe, there is the sun, the moon, the earth, and hundreds of millions of stars. All of us live in the unfathomable mystery and infinitude of the universe. Pursuing philosophy of the universe through art under such circumstances has led me to what I call stereotypical repetition."
No. F is one of Kusama's first works from the celebrated series. From a distance the subtle painting looks delicate and monochromatic, but when viewed up close, the complexities of the canvas's surface become apparent. The bluish-grey underlay is almost completely obscured by small, white semi-circles, which consume the entire canvas and only allow the gray underlay to be visible in the form of tiny dots. The organic arched shapes all curve in the same direction, creating an undulating net that would continue on indefinitely if not for the edge of the canvas. As Kusama explains, "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." This hypnotic feeling is furthermore translated to the viewer, as they are invited into the artist's mind. The thick build-up of the top layer of white paint also adds texture to the work, while the repetitive crescent shapes create an optically mesmerizing pattern that is neither random nor systematic, but instead reminiscent of things found in the natural world, such as atoms and cells. Although the obsessive and time-consuming Nets were painstaking to create, they proved therapeutic for the artist.
Begun in the late 1950s, the series coincided with Kusama's move from her oppressive homeland to New York, where she found the artistic freedom she needed to expand her art practice. Created when Abstract Expressionism was still the popular contemporary art form and Minimalism was still in its infancy, the Infinity Nets were avant-garde for their time. As a result, the Nets are both expressive and minimal, bridging the two opposing movements. For Kusama personally, her Infinity Nets have become central to her practice, and continue to influence her work.
Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York