Pioneers of Light and Space

Pioneers of Light and Space

Aesthetica highlights a selection of artists from the Light and Space movement – a group based in and around Los Angeles in the 1960s. They experimented with how geometric space and radiant light could impact human perception.

Larry Bell

“Although we tend to think of glass as a window, it is a solid liquid that has at once three distinctive qualities: it reflects light, it absorbs light, and it transmits light all at the same time.” Larry Bell (b. 1939) explores the potential of glass and commercial industrial processes. Signature cubes and boxes experiment with subtle gradations of transparency, reflectivity and colour.

Mary Corse

Mary Corse (b. 1945) is influenced by scientific inquiry. She has a deep fascination with perception and the possibility that light itself could serve as both a subject and material. Corse approaches this through painting, transforming modernist tropes such as monochrome and square canvases into illuminated works. The artist uses a variety of materials, including microspheres – commonly used in highway lane paint.

James Turrell

James Turrell’s (b. 1943) works encourage a state of vision that the artist calls “seeing yourself seeing.” The immersive environments invite the viewer to become more aware of changes in the landscape. Colours change slowly in vast, atmospheric environments. Each piece delves into the optical and emotional effects of luminosity, demonstrating Turrell’s continued interest in the psychology of space.

Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin’s (b. 1928) career began in the 1950s with Abstract Expressionist paintings. Today, he is best known for creating light works that make alterations in physical space. Translucent panels cut through rooms, changing the architectural layout of the gallery. Brightly coloured fluorescents come together in geometric patterns and grids – drawing spectators in and playing with their experiences.

Helen Pashigan

Featured above is a work by pioneering sculptor Helen Pashgian (b. 1934). Comprising 12 moulded acrylic columns, it fills an entire gallery. “I think of the columns as ‘presences’ in space – presences that do not reveal everything at once,” she explained. “One must move around to observe changes: coming and going, appearing and receding, visible and invisible – a phenomenon of constant movement. It touches on the mysterious, the place beyond which the eye cannot go.”


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Lead image: James Turrell, 67 68 69, Pace Gallery, 2016.
1. Larry Bell, Bay Area Blues, 2018.
2. Mary Corse.
3. © Florian Holzherr.
4. James Turrell “Aten Reign” 2013, installation view, © James Turrell. Photo: David Heald © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York
5. Robert Irwin, Light and Space II (1), 2008.
6. Helen Pashgian, “Untitled, 2012-13,” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.(Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
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