Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “How deep was the mystery? Did infinite infinities exist beyond our universe? In exploring these questions I wanted to examine the single dot that was my own life. One polka dot: a single particle among billions.” 
    — Yayoi Kusama

    Nets Obsession is a beautiful example of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Net paintings, her most celebrated body of work exploring the net motif that has preoccupied the artist since 1958. While her first Infinity Nets consist of white lattice structures on black backgrounds, thickly impastoed circular forms that create a shimmering overlay like textured lace, her later works grew to be flatter over time, her brushstrokes less visible. As a self-taught painter, Kusama’s approach to painting is utterly unique, allowing her innermost self to flow onto the surface in a process she later referred to as “self-therapy”, what Chief Curator of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Tohru Matsumoto, has reflected as her way of ‘understanding herself through the act of making art’.i This blue aquatic present work is beautifully emblematic of the inclusion of colour in her net paintings, suggestive of a marine-scape in which living organisms sway in the moving current, hypnotising the viewer in the serenity of its depths.



    Blue Infinity 

    “During the dark days of the War, the scenery of the river bed behind our house, where I spent much of my disconsolate childhood, became the miraculous source of a vision: the hundreds of millions of white pebbles, each individually verifiable, really ‘existed’ there, drenched in the midsummer sun.” 
    — Yayoi Kusama

    In Nets Obsession, Kusama delicately places an array of white, weave-like curls onto a surface of midnight blue, creating a capricious, animate image as the white mixes with the background to create fluctuating tonality. The painting appears to resemble a coral reef, viewed as if a diver swimming above, watching the marine life and coral polyps sway in the gentle currents below. Or perhaps these circular forms are pebbles on a riverbed glittering in the midsummer sun, reminiscent of those that absorbed her mind during her childhood in Nagona, Japan. The feeling of viewing a subaquatic scene is reinforced by the loose, thinly applied paint which looks itself to have been purposefully watered down. Kusama’s individual strokes blur into one, achieving the effect of totality and evoking her interest in the theme of interconnectivity. Further, the thinness of her paint emphasises the dexterity and fearlessness of each stroke, as there is nowhere to hide, no thick paint to obscure a misstep of hand. 



    Detail of the present lot



    The surface seems to change as the viewer’s eye scans over different parts of the canvas, not dictated by a particular focal point or composition, but coming alive under the viewer’s activating gaze. The image shimmers with a metallic sheen when hit by direct light, almost cool to the touch and mimicking the effect of sunlight plunging through water and refracting in the ripples and waves. Here, the variation of paint thickness allows Kusama to capture a sense of depth and movement that is not necessarily common to her Infinity Nets, typically more porous in their appearance. In Nets Obsession, the artist creates a rhythmic structure that advances and retreats, ebbs and flows, not confined to the constraints of the canvas but seeping out towards us in all directions.


    The ‘Unique Art’ From Within — The Origin of Nets 

    “My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots — an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net.” 
    — Yayoi Kusama

    Landing in America on 18 November 1957, having left her hometown of Matsumoto City in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, Kusama lived the life of a starving artist in New York, dedicating every waking minute to her obsessive, repetitive application of what she has referred to as ‘a toneless net of tiny white arcs’ on canvas.ii  Having reached out to the American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe for advice before her move across the Pacific, O’Keeffe visited Kusama in New York and introduced her to her own art dealer, Edith Halpert, who bought one of her works. Pouring every penny she had into supplies, Kusama continued her practice of net painting but on a larger scale; ‘I set up a canvas so big that I needed a stepladder to work on it, and over a jet-black surface I inscribed to my heart’s content a toneless net of tiny white arcs, tens and thousands of them’.ii 


    In October 1959, Kusama achieved her first solo exhibition in New York, Obsessional Monochrome, held at the Brata Gallery on 10th Street. Featuring five of her Infinity Net paintings, the show was hugely successful, visited by renowned artists such as Donald Judd with whom she later developed a close friendship, cramming the gallery space wall-to-wall with people and effectively launching her career. Typical of her Infinity Nets, these white-on-black lace-like paintings had no focal point, and ignored composition, instead, serving as a snapshot of infinity that extends far beyond the confines of the physical painting. 

    “Deep in the mountains of Nagano, working with letter-size sheets of white paper, I had found my own unique method of expression: ink paintings featuring accumulations of tiny dots and pen drawings of endless and unbroken chains of graded cellular forms or peculiar structures that resembled magnified sections of plant stalks.”  — Yayoi Kusama


    Kusama has been obsessed with these cell-like apertures, representative of the infinite, since her childhood in Nagano, experimenting with ink paintings and pen drawings of repeated organic shapes. These early works derive from her fascination with natural forms, perhaps the consequence of her family’s possession of a plant nursery and seed farm, as well as from the hallucinatory visions that she experienced from a young age. Kusama has discussed throughout her career how the source and basis of her works derive from her psychological illusions, ‘in particular sensory experiences that resemble the symptoms of what psychiatrists call depersonalisation’.iii These organic forms can be seen in early works such as Flower Spirit (circa 1948), a striking, slightly ominous painting in which the shape of a red flower is surrounded by an encroaching, engulfing net, its porous cells shimmering a pale cream in the areas touched by light. Such paintings allude to her fascination with plants, seeds and flowers, while also illuminating the vividness of her visions.



    Yayoi Kusama, Flower Spirit, circa 1948
    Collection of the artist, courtesy of Ota Fine Arts


    “All I did every day was draw. Images rose up one after another, so fast that I had difficulty capturing them all. And it is the same today, after more than sixty years of drawing and painting. My main intention has always been to record the images before they vanish.” 
    — Yayoi Kusama

    In her autobiography, first published in Japanese in 2002, and by Tate Publishing in English in 2011, she recounts an instance when, sketching in the seed-harvesting grounds amongst beds of violets, she looked up to discover that each violet had a human face that was speaking to her. Terrified, she rushed home, anxious to pour the imagery of her visions onto paper. She has described this compulsion to reproduce her visions as motivating her art for decades to come. Further, her psychological complexes have driven her need to ‘create, then obliterate’, through the interpretation of her inner fears, she can attempt to eliminate them in a process of self-obliteration.iv  Having spent the past four decades living in a psychiatric hospital she had chosen to reside in and have her studio at, Kusama continues to make sense of herself and her world through making her dazzling nets, polka dot pumpkins and magical mirrored infinity rooms, amongst some of her most well-known bodies of work.  



    Collector’s Digest 


    Perhaps one of the most popular living artists of our time, Yayoi Kusama continues to draw millions of visitors to her international museum and gallery exhibitions who want to experience first-hand her immersive work. Her work has universal appeal and is adored by a diverse audience of different ages and backgrounds across the globe. Indeed, in 2014 Kusama’s exhibitions were the most visited worldwide. In 1993, she was granted the entire Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and since then Kusama has been the subject of international touring exhibitions organised by major institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1998); Le Consortium, Dijon, France (2000); and National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (2004).


    Her work has also been celebrated in significant retrospectives, such as at Tate Modern, London (2012); and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2012). More recently in 2018, her work was exhibited in the critically acclaimed solo show at Victoria Miro, London, titled THE MOVING MOMENT WHEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSE, her twelfth exhibition at the gallery. Currently, site-specific installations are on view at the New York Botanical Garden from 10 April to 31 October 2021, the physical manifestation of her fascination with the natural world, encouraging visitors to truly engage with their surroundings and for a moment, see the world through her eyes. 



    New York Botanical Garden, KUSAMA: COSMIC NATURE, 10 April – 31 October 2021


    i Tohru Matsumoto, ‘Requiem and Resurrection: The Art of Yayoi Kusama’, in Yayoi Kusama: Eternity-Modernity, Tokyo, 2004, p. 278
    ii Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, Ralph McCarthy, London, 2011, p. 18
    iii Tohru Matsumoto, ‘Requiem and Resurrection: The Art of Yayoi Kusama’, in Yayoi Kusama: Eternity-Modernity, Tokyo, 2004, p. 276
    iv Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, Ralph McCarthy, London, 2011, p. 47

    • Provenance

      Robert Miller Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004

    • Artist Biography

      Yayoi Kusama


      Named "the world's most popular artist" in 2015, it's not hard to see why Yayoi Kusama continues to dazzle contemporary art audiences globally. From her signature polka dots—"fabulous," she calls them—to her mirror-and-light Infinity Rooms, Kusama's multi-dimensional practice of making art elevates the experience of immersion. To neatly pin an artistic movement onto Kusama would be for naught: She melds and transcends the aesthetics and theories of many late twentieth century movements, including Pop Art and Minimalism, without ever taking a singular path.

      As an octogenarian who still lives—somewhat famously—in a psychiatric institution in Tokyo and steadfastly paints in her immaculate studio every day, Kusama honed her punchy cosmic style in New York City in the 1960s. During this period, she staged avant-garde happenings, which eventually thrust her onto the international stage with a series of groundbreaking exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in the 1980s and the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993. She continues to churn out paintings and installations at inspiring speed, exhibiting internationally in nearly every corner of the globe, and maintains a commanding presence on the primary market and at auction.

      View More Works

Property from a Private Collection, Los Angeles


Nets Obsession

signed, titled and dated ‘Yayoi Kusama 2004 “NETS OBSESSION”’ on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
162.3 x 162.3 cm. (63 7/8 x 63 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2004, this work will be accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000 

Sold for HK$25,660,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021