11 Female Artists Who Were Pioneering Minimalists

Kayne Griffin Corcoran
Jan 11, 2019 7:52PM

Meredith Mendelsohn · Sep 2, 2016 5:07 pm

It may be Frank Stella who’s known for making the first push towards minimalism, with his radical black stripe paintings of the late 1950s—in which he replaced gestural brushwork with systematically rendered bands of black house paint. But by that point Carmen Herrera was already creating compositions in a minimalist style of her own.

As a movement, however, Minimalism was undeniably dominated by men, with even fewer women in its orbit than Abstract Expressionism—the style whose highly personal, dramatic, and angst-ridden ethos was everything that Minimalist artists like Donald Judd and Robert Morris sought to upend. It was those two artists, Morris and Judd, who formulated in writing many of the ideas behind what we now know as Minimalism. Though they never named it as such or proclaimed it a movement, they were clear about their intentions. They called for simple, three-dimensional, geometric forms that were stripped of any illusionism, iconography, or personal expression and made using industrial processes and materials like plywood, aluminum, and plastic.While a growing number of artists were making Minimalist work through the ’60s, it wasn’t until the 1966 “Primary Structures” exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York that this style was identified as a more widespread American phenomenon. Only three women were included in that show (and only one of those artists, Anne Truitt, continued working in a minimalist mode). When the Jewish Museum revisited the exhibition in 2014 with “Other Primary Structures,” more women were brought into the fold, as were artists from outside the United States. Below, we take a look at 11 women artists who have made pioneering contributions to the pared-down geometric abstractions of Minimalism over the past 50 years.


Mary Corse

B. 1945, Berkeley, California

Although Corse, who is still making work today, is often lumped together with artists of the 1960s Light and Space movement—Larry Bell, Doug Wheeler, John McCracken—she didn’t know those artists at the time, and wasn’t even aware of their work. But it’s easy to see why she’d be associated with that Southern California movement. To start, Corse was born in Berkeley, California, and lived in Los Angeles after studying at UC Santa Barbara and the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts). She first gained attention in the mid-’60s with white, shaped-canvas monochromes and light box-like constructions made from Plexiglas and fluorescent lights.

In 1968, she discovered glass microbeads, the tiny prismatic spheres often embedded in roads or street signs for nighttime reflectivity. She began to attach the beads to the painted surfaces of her canvases, satisfying her desire to create different sensory effects with light. While these shimmering surfaces may suggest excess more than minimalism, they are in fact quite restrained, usually composed of pared-down geometric patterns, like broad stripes. When viewing these works from certain angles, light shifts across them and their surfaces seem to dissolve. It’s a curious effect considering that the physical presence of her paintings is often so strong.

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Kayne Griffin Corcoran