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Contemporary Art

Three to See: Corse, Bove, Giacometti

The summer begins with three compelling solo shows by artists Mary Corse, Carol Bove, and Alberto Giacometti.  

Mary Corse: A Survey in Light at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York 

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MAUPIN, NEW YORK; AND LISSON GALLERY, LONDON. PHOTOGRAPH © MARY CORSE. MARY CORSE, UNTITLED (WHITE MULTIPLE INNER BAND), 2003. COURTESY KAYNE GRIFFIN CORCORAN, LOS ANGELES, LEHMANN.

MAUPIN, NEW YORK; AND LISSON GALLERY, LONDON. PHOTOGRAPH © MARY CORSE. MARY CORSE, UNTITLED (WHITE MULTIPLE INNER BAND), 2003. COURTESY KAYNE GRIFFIN CORCORAN, LOS ANGELES, LEHMANN.

It’s been quite the year for American artist Mary Corse. The artist, who is most often affiliated with her innovative contributions towards the West Coast Light and Space movement in the 1960s, is receiving a well-deserved spotlight after a five decade course of art making. To say she’s been busy is an understatement – from her Topanga Canyon, California studio, Corse has been preparing for three new shows being shown in tandem: Lisson Gallery (London), Dia:Beacon (New York), and most recently, her first museum survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), which will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next year.   

The challenge of portraying light through painting has been a perpetual study for Corse, and has evolved throughout the years. In the early days, testing a painting’s inherent formal qualities, to break from them, and seeking how to actualize light on a canvas led to a lifelong exploration. The use of unorthodox materials, such as glass microspheres, metallic bits, plexiglass, fluorescent light, and cast clay, informed the artist’s understanding of light—her early edge-defying canvases and sculptures led to flickering light boxed paintings and then to her groundbreaking White Light paintings and the Black Light and Black Earth series. Working closely with the artist, Kim Conaty – Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Whitney – explains the show has been structured to highlight the work from these three critical stages of Corse’s fifty-year career.

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MARY CORSE, UNTITLED (TWO TRIANGULAR COLUMNS), 1965. WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK; GIFT OF MICHAEL STRAUS IN LOVING MEMORY OF HOWARD AND HELAINE STRAUS 2016.6A-B.

MARY CORSE, UNTITLED (TWO TRIANGULAR COLUMNS), 1965. WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK; GIFT OF MICHAEL STRAUS IN LOVING MEMORY OF HOWARD AND HELAINE STRAUS 2016.6A-B.

In the West Gallery, early works are based on one ambitious question, “How can a painting embody light?” Departing from her formal art training, Corse began to challenge the way light refracts, moves, and transforms by attempting to produce glowing paintings that seemingly act as their own source of light. Defying the traditional two-dimensionality of paintings, she produced canvases in octagonal, hexagonal and even diamond forms. In Untitled (White Diamond, Negative Stripe), 1965, the shape is sliced by an unpainted band dissecting the middle, drawing the focus to its center – an invitation for a “visual passageway to a space inside the painting’s surface.” Conaty connects this painting to the artist’s two freestanding sculptures Untitled (Two Triangular Columns), 1965, which also have a diverging channel through the sculpture’s surface. Together, these white triangular columns challenge space and volume as the viewer perceives light when it refracts on surfaces and edges as you move around it.   

In her White Light paintings, Corse applied glass microspheres onto the surface of the canvas, refracting light and adding an illuminating quality. Appearing as glittering metallic grids on a plane, the subtleties of Corse’s brushstrokes become more evident, especially when the works are displayed together.   

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MARY CORSE, UNTITLED (WHITE DIAMOND, NEGATIVE STRIPE), 1965. COLLECTION OF MICHAEL STRAUS. PHOTOGRAPH © MARY CORSE.

After leaving her Los Angeles studio in the early 1970s for the rugged environment of Topanga Canyon, where she continues to reside, Corse found herself drawn back to the earth. In her Black Light paintings, she experiments with black acrylic squares joined with white glass microspheres, after “taking an interest in the reflective qualities of metals found in the ground.” In her Black Earth tile paintings, she dives even deeper, using clay and a lacquered black glaze to glisten with light.   

The culmination of Corse’s extensive body of work is her White Light Band Series, 1991-2003, which feature a familiar involuntary omnipresent inner band within her paintings throughout the span of her career – an intuitive translation of bands of light moving in congrue