MARY CORSE (B. 1945)
MARY CORSE (B. 1945)
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MARY CORSE (B. 1945)

Untitled (Blue Double Arch)

MARY CORSE (B. 1945)
Untitled (Blue Double Arch)
signed and dated ‘Mary Corse 1998’ (on the reverse)
glass microspheres in acrylic on canvas
137.2 x 167.6 cm. (54 x 66 in.)
Painted in 1998
The artist
Private collection

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Lot Essay

Untitled (Blue Double Arch) is not simply a painting, it is a performance of light. At nearly human-scale, Mary Corse envelops viewers within a double arch of matte white and black before opening a shimmering blue portal that alternatively recedes and protrudes. Over blue acrylic paint, Corse applies glass microspheres to absorb, bend, and refract ambient light. As viewers move around the work, the spectrum of blue is revealed as the miniscule glass particles glow, darken, and glint in turn. Corse creates an active dialogue between viewer, painting, and light. The artwork depends on this three-way exchange to be fully realised. As a result, it is everchanging; no two viewings are ever the same. As Corse states, "The art is not on the wall, it’s in the viewer's perception."
Influenced by her study of physics, in particular the phenomenological concepts of perception, Corse is interested in translating the experience of light into the two-dimensions of painting. Her practice exists within a long legacy of painters from Johannes Vermeer to Claude Monet who sought to capture the impression of light through paint. However, for Corse, as with her artist peers in California, starting from the 1960’s the goal is to harness light as a medium in and of itself. Parallels between her work and that of James Turrell and Robert Irwin are evident in their shared manipulation of light and space that challenges viewers to engage with artworks in radically new ways. Corse believed that light could be both a subject and material of art and approached the question of light through painting. A work such as Untitled (Blue Double Arch) is an important and rare example from the late 1990’s.
Compositionally, Corse’s practice is aligned with the abstract art movements of the 20th century: hard-edge painting, minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, while remaining entirely her own. When considered in dialogue with monochrome works such as Ad Reinhart’s Black Paintings or Robert Ryman’s White Paintings, which both necessitate prolonged and close looking, Corse’s own understanding of abstraction appears firmly rooted in the tenets of Abstract Expressionism. Corse’s negotiation of line and form in her early Grid works (1960s) are also linked to Agnes Martin’s grid drawings. Synchronicities can be also found with artists such as Piet Mondrian, whose work was fundamental to the growth of abstraction in the US. Moreover, his use of primary colors is closely linked to Corse’s own visual language, particularly in the Arch paintings which saw her reintroduce color (red, blue, and yellow) for the first time since the 1960s.
Corse began incorporating microspheres in her work in 1968 after she noticed the reflective paint used along the Pacific Coast Highway to illuminate the road at night. In combination with her gestural, textured application of paint, this material exaggerates the marks of the artist’s hand, recording her process of making. In her earlier bodies of work, Grids (1960s) and Field (1990s), Corse found innovative ways to control the refraction of light to create compositions made up entirely of glass microspheres. The Arch series represents a significant compositional development as Corse included bands of smooth, unmodulated paint to contrast the microsphere fields they surround and explore negative and positive space while remaining radically abstract. This interplay of flat and textured paint continues to be a theme in Corse’s ongoing Innerband painting series.
The reintroduction of color, which Corse hadn’t used since the 1960s, in the Arch paintings adds an important layer to this work. Corse leaves the interpretation of the glimmering blue to the viewer – one person might see the deep blue of the ocean, another the shimmer of sky at dawn, or yet another viewer could see a mystical expanse that is entirely divorced from the natural world. For Corse, there is no distinction between abstraction and the world around us, she states, ‘It’s not that the painting relates to nature, but it is nature.’ In this way, Corse’s paintings can be seen as meditations on the internal as she radically challenges the notion that abstraction and representation are mutually exclusive. She is interested in the idea that white light encompasses all colors at once, and since the hue of blue in this work is determined by the surrounding light and the angle at which one stands, no two people can see the same color at the same time. Accordingly, Corse is calling attention to the individual experience inherent in painting.
Corse is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including the Cartier Foundation Award (1993), National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (1975), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Theodoron Award (1971), and Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s New Talent Award (1967). Her work has been exhibited extensively in Europe and the United States. She was the subject of a comprehensive survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2018 that travelled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2019. Currently, her paintings are the subject of a long-term solo exhibition at Dia:Beacon in New York (2018-2022).

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