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 brings light directly into her paintings by mixing acrylic paint with prismatic glass microspheres and miniature, highly reflective acrylic squares.
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. Working apart from the largely male California Light and Space artists – like Helen Pashgian – she added metallic flake to her paint for added brilliance in octagonal-shaped paintings. Her brand of West Coast Minimalism featured a shiny surface – “finish fetish” – to investigate light and perception.
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” built her own kiln.
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 has also been exhibited at the Guggenheim in New York and MOCA in Los Angeles. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Menil Collection and LACMA. Dia Art Foundation in Beacon, New York just opened a long-term installation of her work. The Whitney Museum has presented her first solo museum survey, “Mary Corse: A Survey in Light.”