Yayoi Kusama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, November 15, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Yayoi Kusama’s Nets Blue, 1960, is a striking, aquatic work from the artist’s signature Infinity Nets series. The artist paints a spiraling mesh of u-shaped, cerulean brushstrokes that completely envelop the black ground. The mesh is not uniform in direction or texture; it seems to whorl, clockwise, like a hurricane, with ridges of excess oil paint like rough waves on the surface. Nets Blue stands as brightly colorful net among Kusama’s early monochrome works, and her use of blue is also outstanding; the artist rarely painted any nets in blue until the 1980s-1990s. Grounded in the direct theory and influences of her initial Nets period from 1958-1962, Nets Blue’s blue-on-black vibrancy presages the colorful world of art that Kusama would build over the next six decades.


    Yayoi Kusama with her Infinity Nets in her New York studio, c. 1960. Artwork: © YAYOI KUSAMA

    The infinity net is one of the essential visual and theoretical concepts in Kusama’s art practice. Constructed from repeated u-shaped brushstrokes, the net pattern expands from portions of canvases, such as A Flower with Nets, 1952-c. 1963, collection of the artist, to fill entire rooms, as at her 1961 exhibition at the Stephen Radich Gallery, where her Infinity Nets, thirty feet in length, covered the gallery’s walls, edge-to-edge and floor-to-ceiling, in a wallpaper of Kusama’s aesthetic fingerprints.i In early nets, such as Nets Blue, the artist leans into the hand-drawn quality of her brushstrokes; the mesh of the net varies in size and texture, from thin loops to tactile areas of impasto. There is variation within the repetition, an artist’s hand at the center of the net. 

    Conceptually, the infinite net embodies an inherent contradiction: how can one put a net around infinity? Or, inversely, how can a net span infinitely? To encircle or extend infinitely is, by definition, an infinite task, and it is one that Kusama takes up, voraciously, initially from 1958-1962, and revisits again later in her career, in the form of the infinity net motif. Reflecting back on these early Nets paintings, Kusama recalls working on her canvases for forty or fifty hours at a time, feeling “as if I were driving on the highways or carried on an (endless) conveyor belt… to my death… like continuing to drink thousands of cups of coffee or eating thousands of feet of macaroni.”ii In other words, weaving an infinity net felt like moving, making, being, consuming, infinitely, both with and against her own will. The infinity net was life itself.


    Kusama’s source of inspiration for the infinity nets came from a major of change in her life: in 1957, she flew from Japan to the United States for the first time. She cites the view of ocean waves from the airplane as the visual origin of her nets.iii With Nets Blue, the blue-on-black color combination deepens the connection to Kusama’s inspiration. One can imagine looking out the window of an airplane, perhaps at night, and seeing an infinite abyss of blue-tinged-black below.

    Another source of inspiration may have come across the ocean, in the form of the European avant-garde. Kusama’s works were more readily accepted in Europe than the United States in the 1960s, and the year 1960 marked the beginning of her relationship with artists in the German Group Zero, among others.iv Like Kusama, these artists were interested in repetitive visual motifs, and their pursuit of abstraction was motivated by theoretical conceptions of infinity, and infinity as a means of self-obliteration. With these guidelines Group Zero sought to create work that was “anti-metaphoric, non-relational, and empty of any reference except to itself.”v For them, infinite self-obliteration meant removing the artist’s hand entirely. Kusama preferred to lose the hand in the waves.


    Günther Uecker, White Field, 1964. Tate Modern, London. Image: © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

    Kusama has claimed outsider status throughout her career: “I had no special relationship with Zero. All I did was do what I liked,” she said, forty years later.vi Her work resists definition within any distinct art movement, and yet, it is not without reference to any outside source. Whether that source is the natural world, such as the ocean, or other artists, such as the European avant-garde, Kusama’s renderings of infinity do not exist in a vacuum.

    “Today, it is banal to speak of how completely our surroundings are networked,” art historian Antje von Graevenitz writes, “[b]ut in the 1960s, the concept was wholly new, and Kusama’s focus was not technology but a principle of existence.”vii The infinite nets of Nets Blue prophesize the unifying lines of the artist’s most recent manifestoes, her litanies of love and human connection, written fifty-five years later: “As long as I live, through the brightness of eternal life and death, to the end of the eternity, I want to keep struggling with indestructible aspirations to reach where peace and humanity end up…”viii


    i Laura Hoptman, “Infinity Nets,” in Kusama, edited by Louise Neri, 2012, p. 62.
    ii Yayoi Kusama, quoted in ibid.
    iii Antje von Graevenitz, “Kusama’s Key Concepts of Infinity Nets and Self-Obliteration: Unequal Correspondences in Europe in the 1960s,” in Yayoi Kusama: A Retrospective, edited by Stephanie Rosenthal, Munich, 2021, p. 69.
    iv von Graevenitz, p. 69; Laura Hoptman, “Yayoi Kusama: A Reckoning,” in Yayoi Kusama, edited by Laura Hoptman, Akira Tatehate, and Udo Kultermann, London, 2000, p. 43.
    v Survey p. 43.
    vi Yayoi Kusama, interviewed by Akira Tatehata, in Yayoi Kusama, 2000, p. 10.
    vii von Graevenitz, p. 72.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Pennsylvania
      Robert Miller Gallery, New York
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2008)
      Christie’s, Hong Kong, May 27, 2017, lot 1
      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 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 a Northeast Private Collector


Nets Blue

signed, titled and dated "KUSAMA 1960 NETS BLUE" on the reverse
oil on board
20 1/4 x 16 5/8 in. (51.4 x 42.2 cm)
Painted in 1960, this work is accompanied by a registration card issued by Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

Full Cataloguing

$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for $2,450,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
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+1 212 940 1206


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2022