EXHIBITION ON VIEW THROUGH OCTOBER 6, 2012
Essay excerpt from
The Realization of Perception:
White Paintings by Mary Corse
by Drew Hammond (2011)
Since periodizations cannot all be arbitrary, we can notice how events of the early chronology of Mary Corse’s life could have projected themselves into the future. Her birth in 1945 coincides with the year of Pollock’s first drip paintings made in the same year, and her precocious early work of the mid and late sixties saw the twilight of Abstract Expressionism and the publication of Donald Judd’s Specific Objects1 in 1965, an essay that was to signal the evolution of Minimalism as a force in American painting, “even though,” as Corse has remarked, “we discovered there really are no specific objects.”2 This discovery has to do with the most distinctive feature of Corse’s work as a dynamic embodiment of perception. The work is such an embodiment in two senses of the term, both as a visible expression of perception, and as a process by which perception becomes tangible.3
In the presence of Corse’s paintings—often to our astonishment—we find that they transform before our eyes as we draw closer or farther away, and especially if we should move across the field of view. Should there be a natural light source, then the paintings also change as the light striking them moves due to a passing cloud, or by the trajectory of the sun. At first, the works might appear to be fixed, undifferentiated, flat, hard-edged, monochromatic—in this case matte white—geometric fields with neither a sign of the artist’s hand nor an accidental pattern of surface variation. Then, even with a subtle change in the spectator’s viewing position, the paintings suddenly reveal alternating bands that might be reflective, gray, differentiated by brushstrokes, textured, and with what Hans Hofmann called “push-pull” varying depth effects. With any further movement of the spectator or the light source, the paintings continue to reveal innumerable oscillating variations between these two poles of unity and multiplicity.
Corse’s manner of compelling a variable perception with the viewing experience also renders her work conceptually distinct from older Minimalist contemporaries such as Donald Judd, Frank Stella (early work), Larry Bell, Brice Marden (early work), John McCracken, Carl Andre, and others. Despite its diversity, “orthodox” Minimalism remained at heart a more radical assertion of the Modernist idea that a work of art could aspire to dispense with any external referent in order to represent only itself. Corse’s work rejects such a view not for traditional reasons of art as a representation of an external referent, but because the Modernist autoreferential idea presupposes a fixed self to which the artwork exclusively refers.
Instead, Corse’s own work posits an experience that entails the interaction of three elements: (1) an artwork contrived by the artist as a field that elicits acts of varying perceptions; (2) the subjective and varying perceptions that the work compels thereby; and (3) external conditions independent of the spectator that further vary the perceptions. In this sense, the work is not autoreferential, but the nexus of a system of conditions in shifting and continually dynamic equilibrium. As such, the work enacts rather than represents our experience of reality.
1. Judd, Donald “Specific Objects” in Thomas Kellein, ed. Donald Judd: Early Work 1955-1968 New York, 2002. Originally published in Arts Yearbook 8, 1965
2. Mary Corse in conversation with the author, August, 2011.
3. See Husserl, E., 1963, Ideas: A General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Trans. W. R. Boyce Gibson. New York: Collier Books. From the German original of 1913, originally titled Ideas pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book. Newly translated with the full title by Fred Kersten. Dordrecht and Boston, 1983.