Artist Spotlight: Mary Corse

January 30, 2019

Mary Corse’s Engaging Spaces

Having been exposed to the works of Josef Albers and Hans Hoffman at a young age, Mary Corse became fascinated with their ability to coax out the viewer’s recognition of their own perception. She recalls tracing their fundamental shapes over and over, marveling at the ways in which her visual interaction with the forms could animate and transform them. In her own words, these artists allowed the viewer to become “part of the work” as “their position and movement actually creates the painting.” This discovery sparked her enduring interest in the “pictorial tools” that could create and alter perceived spaces, as opposed to simply depicting them. Together, Untitled (White Light Grid) (1969), Untitled (Black Earth Series) (c. 1977), and Untitled (c. 1990), present a survey of Corse’s evolving pursuit to activate her viewer’s participation through a variety of mediums.

Mary Corse, Untitled (White Line Grid)
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Corse is ubiquitously known for her numerous monochromatic white paintings, and the particular series to which Untitled (White Light Grid) (1969) belongs, demonstrates an important development in the artist’s practice. The question of subjectivity has remained central to the Corse’s investigation of perception. Throughout the early to mid-1960s, Corse rejected all forms of representation and attempted to remove any trace of her artistic interference with her materials. In order to create the impression that her pure plains of color were free of manipulation, Corse would sand down even her smallest brushstrokes. In this process, Corse went to great lengths to steer the viewer away from logical thought and towards an enveloping perceptual experience. By the late 1960s however, Corse realized that an artist’s subjectivity could never truly be erased from their work. As a result, the White Light Grid series shows Corse decidedly putting “the brushstroke and the human touch back in,” as she emphasizes the alternating directions in which she has pulled the paint across the canvas in each square of the grid. This shift in theory was also accompanied by Corse’s new integration of glass microspheres with her pigment, which allowed the painting to emit a unique luminosity.

Mary Corse, Untitled (Black Earth Series)
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

While Untitled (Black Earth Series) (c. 1977) might initially present as a relief sculpture, Corse insists that it is yet another iteration of the painting medium. This is critical to the work’s function, as Corse believes that the maintenance of a two-dimensional situation promotes abstraction and leaves more room for the viewer’s active immersion, given that it does not preemptively assert the work’s physical (i.e. three dimensional) values and limitations. Continuing her career-long discussion of the relationship between subjectivity and viewer participation, Corse again turned to minimal composition. To create Untitled (Black Earth Series) (c. 1977) Corse took a mold directly from a mountain rock and the only indication of her intervention in the clay is the ceramic glaze applied to reveal the terrestrial material’s capacity to transmit light. Where many of her previous works present the ultimate reduction of color, Untitled (Black Earth Series) (c. 1977), captures the ultimate reduction of texture, that which has been “molded off the earth.”

Mary Corse, Untitled
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Untitled (c. 1990) appears to be a study for a planned painting. Corse began painting her arch form in the late 1980s in monochromatic palettes. The differentiation between the outer and inner fields in this composition is often entirely dependent on the viewer’s position in relation to the work. Untitled (c. 1990) intriguingly reveals Corse’s inclusion of a band within the arch, a figuration that she would not paint until 1996. This ‘inner-band’ revisits the forms of her wood column series produced in the mid-1960s. According to Corse, the flattened application of this composition pushes the viewer even further into the experience of the work. By combining the subtle color gradient that constitutes shape in her earlier arches with the inner-band of her columns, the work’s creation of space through light disappears and reappears in response to the viewer’s engagement. While her techniques and materials have varied widely over the fifty years of her career, Corse persistently teases out the viewer’s sensitivity to their own act of creation through perception. This set of three works offers a multidimensional review, not only of the transformations in Corse’s artistic vocabulary, but of the consistency in her objectives.

Bacon, Alex. “Mary Corse.” Kayne Griffin Corcoran,
“Mary Corse: A Survey in Light.” Whitney Museum of American Art, 2018,


Lot 137
Mary Corse
Untitled (White Light Grid)
Glass microspheres in acrylic on canvas
Signed and dated verso
24.25″ x 24″
Provenance:  Richard Bellamy, New York, New York; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, 1971); Thence by descent

Estimate: $100,000–150,000
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction


Lot 138
Mary Corse
Untitled (Black Earth Series)
c. 1977
Fired and glazed clay
Signed in graphite verso
15.75″ x 15.375″
Provenance:  Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist, 1978)

Estimate: $10,000–15,000
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 139
Mary Corse
c. 1990
Charcoal on paper
Signed in graphite lower right
Composition: 10″ x 19.75″
Sheet (vis.): 12″ x 21.875″
Frame: 18.375″ x 28.125″
Provenance:  Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the artist, c. 1990)

Estimate: $15,000–20,000
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction

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