Vibrancy Defies Finite Canvases

A Japanese master’s steadfast craft spawns art demanding attention

Yayoi kusama/courtesy of robert miller gallery/new york

Yayoi Kusama’s “Dots Obsession 2004” and “Nest Obsession 2004” demonstrate with clarity the infinite potential of spiralling and repetition.

The five paintings by Yayoi Kusama, presented at Robert Miller Gallery, are like the tongue bath lavished by a devoted supplicant as opposed to a peck on the cheek. Her erotically charged “Infinity Nets” all share a matte black-ground of indefinable space that keeps the darkness at bay––only cordoned by the paintings’ borders and the viewer’s perspective––by a simple means repeated ad infinitum.

Necklaces of pop beads spiral out from the canvas center-––target style––in iridescent maroon; a dotted grid throbs softly in rusty washes; interlocking spongy cells of warm sepia surge to the surface; waves of cool blue broken building-like shapes ooze, as if colic, out to the corners of the canvas and zones of gray and white dots of intermixed size press against the blackness.

In these masterful statements by an artist in full possession of her approach and her medium, Kusama makes her madness, the membrane between life and death, gorgeously visible and absolutely redemptive in this work.

With this body of work, Kusama joins a select group of artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Philip Guston, Lucien Freud, Agnes Martin, and Joan Mitchell, whose work transcended the youthful styles of its incipience in the 1950s and early 60s to emerge as mature alterstils—dynamic late work of great clarity and force. In the process, Kusama’s emotional focus makes the faux obsession-driven work of painters who succeeded her generation (Bleckner and Schnabel) appear as the stuff of beverage coasters; and Kusama’s willingness to challenge limits and entertain a greater vision accelerates her beyond most figurative artists (Peyton, Loeb, and Currin), with twee narratives and limited reach.

Not too shabby for a supposedly crazy, aging woman, not too shabby at all.

Kusama’s work is featured around town over the next couple of months. The Public Art Fund, in collaboration with the Whitney Biennial, will present an outdoor installation “Narcissus Garden” April 17 through May 30 at the Toy Boat Pond near 72nd Street in Central Park, near the “Alice in Wonderland” sculpture. At the Whiney Biennial itself, Kusama’s mirror room “Fireflies on the Water” is a first-hand taste of her worldview rendered physical yet inexplicably immaterial.

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