Unexpected Materials

CHAPTER 4: What lies beneath: unique surfaces

In these works, you’ll encounter surfaces of all qualities and textures: from glittery glass microspheres to industrial bronze slats to ruddy egg cartons. What unites this group, however, is a common deviation from the norm. Giuseppe Maria Crespi rejected ordinary canvas in favor of copper, for instance, so as to endow his subject with a luminous aura not feasible with typical linen. Gego took what could have been a conventional line drawing and gave it dynamic energy by composing it in wire. Finally, Mary Corse achieved the seemingly impossible—creating a painting of light—by applying tiny glass microspheres to her canvas; when illuminated correctly, the result is an expanse of shimmering light.

This art object can not be displayed
Obra articulada y móvil en bronce [Articulated and Mobile Work in Bronze]

Gyula Kosice
Kosice, Czechoslovakia (Slovakia), 1924 - 2016, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Obra articulada y móvil en bronce [Articulated and Mobile Work in Bronze]
73 cm x 35 cm x 25 cm (28 3/4 in. x 13 3/4 in. x 9 13/16 in.)
Gift of the artist, 2007

Gyula Kosice was a pioneer of Concrete and Kinetic art. In the late 1940s, he co-founded Madí, whose experimental approach led him to use unorthodox materials, such as metal slats, neon lights, and Plexiglas. He wanted to engage the public in playful and dynamic ways. For example, "Obra articulada y móvil en bronce" has no predetermined shape. The flat bronze slats are riveted at joints so they can be pivoted in various directions, thereby generating any number of potential forms.

This art object can not be displayed
No. 62.A.A.A.

Yayoi Kusama
Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, 1929 - Tokyo, present

No. 62.A.A.A.
Paint, mattress stuffing, and cardboard egg crates
178 cm x 202 cm (70 1/16 in. x 79 1/2 in.)
Gift of the Center for International Contemporary Arts; Emanuel and Charlotte Levine Collection, 1992

Yayoi Kusama helped forge a new awareness of women artists as audacious experimenters. Her unconventional paintings, constructions, objects, installations, and performances give public expression to her private compulsions. Kusama, a Japanese artist who worked in New York from 1958 to 1972, suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder that causes proliferating patterns to dominate her field of vision. Beginning with small gouache paintings covered with vivid fields of repeated dots and cell-like shapes, she began employing collage techniques in the early 1960s to make her paintings more three-dimensional. No. 62 A.A.A. is a pivotal work. It is constructed of square egg cartons—the sort used for bulk egg deliveries in the 1960s and readily found in street garbage—arranged in a grid and joined by cotton stuffing salvaged from discarded mattresses. An overall coat of spray paint has unified the individual forms into one serial relief of concave hemispheres. By using real-world objects, Kusama’s painted construction anticipated the principles of both Pop art and Minimalism, yet it also refers explicitly to her own unique perceptual experience. The rhythms of its projecting and receding voids mimic the pulsations of the expanding fields she sees, translating the sensations of her body into concrete form. The Blanton owns a rich assortment of other Kusama works, including an important large diptych painting from 1987, 11 mixed media paintings on paper from the 1950s, and an archive of materials from the artist’s years in New York.


Mary Corse
Berkeley, California, 1945 –

Acrylic with glass microspheres
275 cm x 276 cm (108 1/4 in. x 108 11/16 in.)
Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1979

Mary Corse intends for her monochromatic paintings to be immersive experiences. In 1968 the artist began a series of large-scale, white grid paintings, mixing acrylic paint with glass microspheres—a material used to give road signs and dividing lines their reflective look—to transform the flat canvas into a luminescent plane. The result encourages movement around the work’s surface, inviting us to engage with its projected light from a variety of angles and distances. Indeed, viewers must encounter it experientially, as it cannot accurately be captured in photographs. As Corse explained in an interview, “When I first started putting glass microspheres in paint, I was really putting the light inside the painting. I didn’t want to paint a picture of the experience of light—I wanted the painting to be the light experience itself.”

Image credit:
Antonio Berni
Retrato de Ramona [Portrait of Ramona], 1963 (detail)
Collage of collagraph prints
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
Gift of the Museum of Modern Art, 1982