Mary Corse, a Los Angeles Postmodern, Light and Space artist, who created geometric shaped canvases in acrylic in the 1960s, is best known for producing art that plays with the properties of light. She investigates light and perception by bringing light directly into her paintings by mixing acrylic paint with prismatic glass microspheres and miniature, highly reflective acrylic squares. In her White Light paintings and Black Earth series the visual experience is contingent on changes in the viewer’s position.
In 1968, during a sunset drive, she noticed that there was light illuminating the lane markings and street signs. She found out that the source of that light came from microbes, and she has been using glass beads in her paint every since. Like the artist Helen Pashgian, she worked apart from the largely male California Light and Space artists.
Resisting association with the feminist movement, she left Los Angeles and moved to Topanga Canyon, an isolated area west of Los Angeles, that allowed her to focus on her work and family. Her brand of West Coast Minimalism featured a shiny surface – “finish fetish” – made by her adding metallic flakes to paint for added brilliance.
During her early years in L.A. Corse created light boxes out of argon tubes and squares of light, that appeared to hover in space. She did her own electrical engineering, and for her 1970s “Black Earth Series” she molded her works in clay from plaster impressions she made of a large flat rock near her studio. She fired the resulting ’tiles’ in an oversized kiln, which she built herself.
In 1968, Corse began “The Cold Room,” an immersive environment in which a wireless light box hangs in near-freezing temperatures, forcing a viewer to focus on the light itself. Over many years, she struggled for financing and studied physics to plan and build parts of the work herself. It was completed in 2017 and was able to be fully displayed as a completed work. “Finishing the piece has finally made the past present for me. Was it five minutes ago? Five years? Fifty?”
She has shown her work in significant museum exhibitions: “Crosscurrents in LA Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970” at the Getty Center; “Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface” at MOCA San Diego; and “Light and Space” at the Seattle Art Museum. Her work was exhibited at the Guggenheim in New York and MOCA in Los Angeles. The Whitney Museum of American Art presented her first solo museum survey, “Mary Corse: A Survey in Light.” Her work is in the permanent collections of the Menil Collection and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In New York, Dia:Beacon opened a long-term installation of her work.