Larry Bell, 97-6x6x4,1997. Glass, (each panel) 72 x 72 x .5 in.

Larry Bell

Los Angeles

Kivo Hiqashi Gallery

In a recent exhibition by the seminal Light and Space artist Larry Bell, two similar room-sized glass wall installation works were featured along with a maquette and several monoprint collages.

Bell began setting large glass sheets into geometric configurations in the late 1960s, segueing from pedestal sculptures to largescale installations. One of the simplest geometric forms, the cube, was Bell’s starting Point, and like various contemporaries, including James Turrell, Donald Judd, and Sol LeWitt, he has continued to unfold its possibilities. Exploring the possible configurations of two glass sheets intersecting at a right angle, Bell has created works that variously suggest cubes, triangles, angles, and
zigzag labyrinths. Indeed, while the exhibited works return to his earlier interest in the cube, they
simultaneously derive from the more complex formations the artist worked with in the mid-1970s, such as The Iceberg and Its Shadow (1996), which was composed of 56 six-foot-square glass panels.

Technically sophisticated in the extreme, Bell’s works adapt, and even perfect, industrial aerospace technologies for handling and coating large glass surfaces. Indeed, in a distinctive cross between art and technology, the aerospace industry has been known to consult the artist when they encounter especially difficult coating problems. Yet, unlike Minimalist works that typically stress their appropriated industrial forms and processes, Bell’s works ironically underplay their sophisticated physicality, shifting emphasis towards conceptual concerns. Rather than accentuating traditional sculptural interests in mass that were combined by the Minimalists with interests in industrial fabrication, Bell’s works function as visual riddles, accentuating shifting light, color refraction, and viewer perception.

While the two new installations, titled 97-6x6x4 and 97-6x6x4 bevel (1997), weighed in at approximately 1,000 Pounds apiece, their visual effect ls one of weightlessness, With sculptural walls so transparent that viewers look right through them, these cubic works ironically combine massive physical solidity with visual ephemerality. Constructing seamless shifts between tangible physical reality and abstract philosophical concerns, these works extend themes that can be traced to the early stages of Bell’s career, in his use of dematerialized objects, rather than merely systemic or mimetic ones.

ln a former season at this gallery, Bell presented a related series of glass wall installations. Those pieces, particularly 6x6x4-CD and 6x6x4-AB, were treated with graduated densities of metallic and nonmetallic coatings that toyed with the viewer’s presence by mirroring and then dissolving reflections within variously coated passages of the glass walls. The new works extend and underscore the viewer’s presence
as critical to the construction of art, but rather than emphasizing surface, the 1997 works accentuate these concerns through space. With an intriguing spin, the new pieces converse with the works of
Marcel Duchamp, particularly the Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even (Large Glass) (1915-23) and later Etant donnes (1946-66). Clearly, in The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even (Large Glass), viewers could encounter other visitors through the shielded transparency of the glass sheet, symbiotically echoing the unsatisfied encounter of the bride and her bachelors etched upon the pane. ln Bell’s work, instead of merely potentially meeting at eye level, viewers are absorbed from head to foot into the surfaces and spaces of the work, and are thus made wholly visible to each other. ln the process, the act of viewing becomes self-conscious and even uncomfortable. The viewers presence and construction of art
through the process of perception thus becomes a focal point of these works.

Additionally, rather than being merely a single Large Glass, Bell’s installations dimensionally engage the viewer, encouraging circulation around and through the installations. Constructed with twin corners set facing each other, these cubic environments permit entry and exit through the relatively small width of perhaps one foot. Yet the experience of traveling into the midst of these transparent forms prove initially
comforting and then disconcerting. For while the cubic work appears to promise a sheltered seclusion, visitors have but to turn around to find that the privacy of the viewing experience is clearly transparent to others, indeed, is nothing less than a spectacle itself. ln this, Bell’s recent works function like Etant donnes, with the viewing process and the viewer’s physicality becoming explicit issues.

Thus, in traveling beyond the realm of traditional sculptural mass into the territories of conceptual philosophy, the new installations ironically return to the corporeal realm. Affirming the viewer’s presence
as critical to the construction of art, these works circle and complete their initial inversions. Returning to the physical realm with wit and complexity, the works subtly probe and question the nature of art.

–CoIIette Chattopadhyay