Mary Corse: A Survey in Light
Los Angeles-based artist Mary Corse is known as one of the few women involved in the 1960s and 1970s West Coast Light and Space Movement, but in her later incarnations, she should also be known for creating a bridge between the “action painting” of Jackson Pollock and minimalism. In her spectral, invigorating retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, viewers are treated to the arc of her obsession with light.
In the 1960s and 1970s, fellow Light and Space artists Doug Wheeler and Robert Irwin used lighting elements to create”light paintings” in order to challenge viewers’ perceptions by immersing them in destabilizing luminosity – e.g., Wheeler’s SA MI DW SM 2 75 (1975), which engulfs the observer in glowing lilac, or Irwin’s 1971 Slant/Light/Volume, where a heavenly brightness rolls toward the viewer like a wave. Similarly, Corse built her early work Untitled (White Light Series) (1968) out of plexiglass, fluorescent tubing, and acrylic. Viewers who approach the piece, which LACMA has installed in a darkened nook, will be dazzled by this square of pure white radiance that looks like a smartwatch face set on stun. But later, Corse returned to paint on canvas.
At the same time, she grew fascinated less by the idea of imposing new perceptions on her audience than creating opportunities for them to craft their own visions by deciding how and where to stand in relation to her paintings: In her stunning Untitled (Black Light Painting) (1975), Corse employed tiny metal flakes and her famous glass microspheres to conjure a huge black totem that emits twinkling star-beams from different coordinates as the viewer sways back and forth in front of the canvas
In her knockout Untitled (White Inner Band, Beveled) (2011), she painted huge rectangles of microsphere-embedded silver paint, which flash and recede like the ocean’s tide as the visitor walks along its length. The “action” of creating different perceptions is not the artist’s tour de force; in Corse’s work, it’s triggered by the viewer’s own election and position.