Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "Everything—myself, others, the entire universe—would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulations of dots...And the spells of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power."
    —Yayoi Kusama

    Painted in 1959, Yayoi Kusama’s Untitled (Nets) belongs to the artist’s most coveted and renowned early series of white Infinity Net paintings. Teetering between the singular and infinite, the canvas surface is veiled with an intricate lattice field of small arcs and loops that appears to gently pulse before the viewer’s eyes. Upon a closer look, smooth strokes yield to swells of impasto, their individual renderings infinitely multiplying with poetic gravitas. Untitled (Nets) marks a pivotal moment in the history of post-war abstraction, reflecting the liminal space between the painterly lush of Abstract Expressionism and the reductive aesthetic of Minimalism in which Kusama established her originality within the avant-garde. Previously in the collection of Günther Uecker, the present work featured in the first ever retrospective of the international ZERO movement, ZERO: Internationale Künstler-Avantgarde der 50er/60er Jahre, at the Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf and Musée d’Art Moderne in Saint-Étienne between 2006 and 2007.


    Günther Uecker, Informal Structure, 1957. Hamburger Banhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Image: bpk Bildagentur / Hamburger Banhof, Museum für Gegenwart / Joerg P. Anders / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn


    Evincing the profound impact of Kusama’s early white Infinity Net paintings, many of the artist’s peers went onto acquire them for their personal collections including Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and—in the case of the present work—Uecker. In 1960, Kusama exhibited with Uecker in the seminal Monochrome Malerei show at the Städtisches Museum Schloss Morsbroich in Leverkusen (where she and Rothko were the only artists selected to represent America) and, in 1962, became the only female artist to participate in the highly acclaimed ZERO international group exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam alongside Uecker, Otto Piene, Lucio Fontana, and Pol Burry. With their hypnotic magnetism and accumulative buzz, Kusama’s early Infinity Nets find a close affinity with Uecker’s protruding-nail reliefs as their respective material elements appear to spiral and converge into infinite spatial realms. 


    Günther Uecker, Otto Piene, Yayoi Kusama, and Heinz Mack, Howard Wise Gallery, New York, 1964. Image: ZERO Foundation, Düsseldorf, Holdings Heinz Mack, Inv.-No: mkp.ZERO.1V.41

    "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. How deep was the mystery? Did infinite infinities exist beyond our universe?"
    —Yayoi Kusama

    Drawn to the vibrant post-war art scene in America, Kusama moved to New York City in June 1958, aspiring to “grab everything that went on in the city and become a star.”i Shortly after, she embarked on her white Infinity Net paintings comprising the present composition. For hours on end often without eating or sleeping, the artist would apply one scallop of white paint after another over a grey or black ground through to the very edges of the canvas, obliterating any fixed focal point with the resulting net of ‘polka dots.’ She explained in her autobiography, “I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. As I repeated this process over and over again, the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me, clinging to my arms and legs and clothes and filling the entire room.”ii 


    Kusama in her New York studio, ca. 1958-59. Image: © Yayoi Kusama

    "Dissolution and accumulation; propagation and separation; particulate obliteration and unseen reverberations from the universe—these were to become the foundations of my art."
    —Yayoi Kusama

    In October 1959, Kusama inaugurated her groundbreaking series of white net paintings with five mural-sized examples at her first New York solo exhibition at Brata Gallery. Attracting immediate attention among contemporaries and critics, Kusama’s Infinity Nets displayed a feverish application of paint whilst consciously departed from the sweeping gestural brushwork of Abstract Expressionism with their obsessive repetition and meditative nature. As Laura Hoptmann commended of the works created in the same year as Untitled (Nets), “The 1959 Nets, with their severely restricted palette and all-over repetitive pattern, were nothing like what the artist had previously produced…These Infinity Nets boldly referenced the New York school and, on its own ground, challenged its hegemony. Describing the brushstrokes she employed as ‘repeated exactly in monotone, like the gear of a machine’ Kusama remembers that the painstaking sameness of the composition was a deliberate attempt to find an antidote to the emotionalism of Abstract Expressionism.”iii 


    Collector’s Digest


    • Examples of Kusama’s early white Infinity Nets reside in notable institutional collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, among others.


    • In Hong Kong in 2019, a similar example from the series achieved $62,433,000 HKD ($7,953,653).


    • After the major Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors traveling retrospective from 2017-2019, the artist has continued to receive renewed institutional attention around the globe with recent retrospectives at the Gropius Bau, Berlin (April 23 – August 15, 2021) and at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (November 15, 2021 – April 23, 2022).

    i Yayoi Kusama, quoted in Akira Tatehata, Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, p. 11.
    ii Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, trans. Ralph McCarthy, London, 2016, p. 20.
    iii Laura Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, London, 2000, p. 42.

    • Provenance

      Günther Uecker, Dusseldorf (acquired via trade)
      Private Collection
      Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007

    • Exhibited

      Dusseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast (p. 317, illustrated, p. 158; titled as Ohne Titel (Netzbild)), ZERO. Internationale Künstler-Avantgarde der 50er/60er Jahre; then travelled as Saint-Etienne, Musée d'art Moderne (p. 317, illustrated, p.159; titled as Sans titre (Trame)), Zéro: avant-garde internationale des années 1950-1960, April 8, 2006–January 15, 2007

    • 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 nonagenarian who still lives in Tokyo and steadfastly paints in her 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 of an American Collector


Untitled (Nets)

signed and dated "KUSAMA 1959" on the reverse
oil on canvas
51 1/2 x 45 7/8 in. (130.8 x 116.5 cm)
Painted in 1959, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

Full Cataloguing

$5,000,000 - 7,000,000 

Sold for $10,496,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278

Carolyn Mayer
Associate Specialist, Associate Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022