Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “This was my epic, summing up all I was. And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power.”
    Yayoi Kusama

    Resplendent with endlessly repeating strokes of golden-orange atop a glistening black canvas, INFINITY-NETS (GMBKA) is a remarkable example from the artist’s iconic Infinity Nets series. The series serves as a cornerstone to her artistic practice, acting as the foundation in which Kusama develops many of her sculptures and installations.


    Meticulously rendered in delicate lattices of loops and swirls, Kusama’s webs appear to be expanding outward, mesmerising as they draw the viewer towards the shimmering spaces contained within the tightly woven blanket of paint. A closer examination of the work reveals a scintillating layer of black impasto behind waves of brilliant golden loops, inviting the viewer to immerse themselves within the depths of the painting amongst the brilliance of an endless expanse of shimmering stars.



    Detail of the present lot


    Generating an entrancing optical sensation, the labyrinthine web of INFINITY-NETS (GMBKA) seems to expand and contract, coming alive as they radiate and pulsate with palpable rhythm. These intricate lines are painted in varying degrees of density, revealing the artist’s hand and painting process, dipping her brush in fresh paint ever so often. From afar, the repeated iterations of a single touch of the brush establish a spellbinding sense of pictorial space. Upon closer examination, the incessant quality of this calculated gesture reveals a dizzying, labour-intensive technique that envelops both the viewer and the artist in the concept of the infinite.



    The Beginning of Infinity 


    Born 1929 in Matsumoto City, Kusama grew up in wartime Japan. It was during this period in her childhood where she began to experience vivid hallucinations of rhythmic patterns that engulfed her field of vision. Tracing back to a specific incident when she was ten years old, the artist described: ‘One day, looking at a red flower-patterned tablecloth on the table, I turned my eyes to the ceiling and saw the same red flower pattern everywhere, even on the window glass and posts. The room, my body, the entire universe was filled with it, my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and the absolute of space. This was not an illusion but reality. I was astounded. If I did not get away from there, I would be wrapped up in the spell of the red flowers and lose my life. I ran for the stairs without thinking of anything else. Looking down, I saw the steps fall away one by one, pulling my leg and making me trip and fall from the top of the stairs. I sprained my leg. Dissolving and accumulating, proliferating and separating. A feeling of particles disintegrating and reverberations from an invisible universe…’ i



    The artist next to her Infinity Nets paintings in her studio, New York, 1961
    Image/Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    Kusama arrived in New York in the 1950s, in pursuit of a better artistic career and seeking creative freedom from the constraints of conventional Japan. Finding inspiration from New York’s avant-garde art scene, the Infinity Nets were born from being surrounded by abstract and minimalistic influences of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Donald Judd and Frank Stella (who both acquired her paintings during this time). However, differentiating herself from the minimalist aesthetic that was prevalent in the New York art scene at the time, Kusama had declared that:


    “My Infinity Net paintings and Accumulation work share different origins form the European monochrome works. They were about an obsession: infinite repetition.”
    — Yayoi Kusama 


    Kusama’s works, such as INFINITY-NETS (GMBKA) and Gold Accumulation (1), arose from Kusama’s kaleidoscopic neurosis and was further extrapolated and reconfigured into ceaseless art marking. Like both sides of one coin, these two works showcase different artist interpretations of the infinite.



    Left: The present lot
    Right: Lot 15, Yayoi Kusama, Gold Accumulation (1), 1999
    Phillips Hong Kong Evening Sale, 1 December 2022
    Estimate: HKD8,000,000 - 12,000,000


    Executed in the mature period of Kusama’s career, instead of oil, INFINITY-NETS (GMBKA) (2013) is painted with acrylic. Kusama made this pivotal transition to a water-based medium in the late 1970s, which built on her foundational training in traditional Japanese painting, and having employed Nihonga watercolour to compose the series’ earlier works. The present work continues the legacy of Kusama’s iconic series of Infinity Nets, employing the same repetitive and hypnotic mark-making technique that forms a captivating visual interplay within the painting’s pictorial depths.



    Obsessive and Meditative, All at Once


    “I came under the spell of repetition and aggregation. My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering with them. They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the centre of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me.”
    — Yayoi Kusama


    Although it is hard to separate Kusama’s mental state from her work, her illness is not the subject of her work, but rather the engine that drives it. Often painting continuously for 40 to 50 hour sessions at a time, Kusama described the process as if she was ‘[...] driving on the highways or carried on a conveyor belt without ending until my death. This is like continuing to drink thousands of cups of coffee or eating thousands of feet of macaroni… I am deeply terrified by the obsessions crawling over my body, whether they come from within me or from outside. I fluctuate between feelings of reality and unreality.’ ii



    The artist with an Infinity Net painting, double exposure photograph, early 1960s Image: Ken van Sickle, Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA


    Kusama saw the process of making the Infinity Nets as integral to the works themselves, and the physical and emotional energy that she poured into them as an imprint of her physical being iii. Using precise, minute flicks of the wrist, Kusama would move her brush across the canvas in an endless repetition, carefully weaving a labyrinthine of overlapping nets that are at once obsessive and meditative, intricate and explosive. This infinitely oscillating pattern simulates the visual effect of a mesmerising glimpse into infinity, demonstrating the artist’s desire to subsume individual ego, bury and obliterate herself through endless intuitive repetition.



    Collector’s Digest 


    Kusama’s largest retrospective in Asia, Yayoi Kusma: 1945 to Now, is currently on view at the M+ Museum in Hong Kong until 14 May 2023. The exhibition features 3 new works, and over 200 works across various international collections, the M+ collection as well as the artist’s own collection. 


    The present work, Infinity Net, stands as a prime example of one of her most emblematic, longest-running series. In May of this year, Phillips New York sold an early work from the same series, Untitled (Nets), for USD $10,496,000 — a record-breaking sum for Kusama’s work at auction. One of the most important contemporary artists today, Kusama continues to amaze with her boundless artistic interpretation of ‘infinity’. 


    The artist's exhibition, Every Day I Pray for Love, is also currently ongoing at the Yayoi Kusama Museum, Tokyo from 7 October 2022 - 26 February 2023. Recent notable solo exhibitions include: Tel Aviv Museum of Art; Berlin, Gropius Bau, 15 November 2021 - 23 April 2022; Victoria Miro, London, 4 June - 31 July 2021; Tate Modern, London, 11 May 2020 - 30 September 2022; amongst others.


    Yayoi Kusma: 1945 to Now, is currently on view at the M+ Museum in Hong Kong



    i Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehata and Udo Kultermann, Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, p. 35-36

    ii ibid, p. 18

    iii ibid, p. 46

    • Provenance

      David Zwirner, New York
      Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above in 2013)
      Phillips, Hong Kong, 24 November 2019, lot 28
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • 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.

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signed, titled and dated '"GMBKA INFINITY-NETS" YAYOI KUSAMA 2013' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
162 x 131 cm. (63 3/4 x 51 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2013, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist's studio.

Full Cataloguing

HK$12,000,000 - 18,000,000 

Sold for HK$12,592,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022