The Critical Eye
by, Phil Tarley
Larry Bell. Complete Cubes
23 June – 23 September 2018
Opening reception: Saturday 23 June, 6 – 9 pm
Larry Bell lives in Taos, New Mexico, “in an attempt to control my distractions.” In a mesmerizing Q&A at Hauser & Wirth on Friday, June 21, Bell offered up some musings on his craft, his process and his perceptions.
“As you move around my cubes, relationships change. The shape and the light contain the piece. If there is no light you can’t see what you are doing.” When you work with glass, danger is everywhere. Glass is a pain in the ass.” “I like simplicity and mystery: Glass transmits light, reflects light and absorbs light and you can manipulate all of these elements. ” Its shelf life is extraordinary: 3 million years –and it’s an ancient man-made material. (When I work with glass I am) spontaneous, improvisational and intuitive.”
Larry Bell’s glass and mirrored cube as presented by Hauser & Wirth in a retrospective of his work that is simple, elegant and ultimately contain an almost spiritual, sensual intimacy. Bell’s innovative approach to sculpture and perceptual phenomena has placed him uniquely at the hub of both Southern California’s Light & Space movement and New York Minimalism in the sixties, which continues to inform his practice today as a forerunner of California Minimalism. This landmark exhibition offers viewers insight into Bell’s lifelong dedication to the glass cube through a groundbreaking body of work that has become inextricably linked to the emergence of Los Angeles as an internationally significant center of artistic innovation. Complete Cubes,’ is Hauser & Wirth’s first solo exhibition for the internationally acclaimed American artist in his hometown.
‘Complete Cubes’ is the first exhibition to organize Bell’s iconic glass cubes by scale, showcasing an example of every size the artist has produced from the early 1960s to the present. Featuring rarely seen works that are among the most important of Bell’s early career, the exhibition comprises over 20 sculptures ranging in size from 2 inches to 40 inches, as well as new large-scale works created specifically for this presentation, which extend new formal explorations seen in his recent 2017 Whitney Biennial installation ‘Pacific Red II.’
Born in Chicago in 1939, Larry Bell first moved to LA with his family in the 1940s. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute (known today as the California Institute of the Arts), from 1957 to 1959. After college he began working at a San Fernando Valley frame shop where he experienced a crucial artistic breakthrough: Bell would experiment with scraps of glass while at the shop, making small constructions with the material and other framing supplies. One day, he placed a cracked piece of glass in a shadow box. ‘The result was an intriguing dual effect,’ Bell recounts, ‘the cracked glass threw a shadow and also a reflection of the crack on the paper.’ This fortuitous moment launched Bell’s career as a sculptor; he moved away from paint and canvas and began to manipulate light and glass in a practice that has now spanned nearly six decades.
Bell rose to prominence in the 1960s, a decade of experimentation during which he worked alongside Southern California Light & Space artists Robert Irwin and John McCracken. In 1965, he relocated to New York for a two-year interlude during which he met Donald Judd and Frank Stella, two life-long friends of significant mutual influence. In 1967, Bell moved back to Los Angeles where spurred by the emergence of a consumer class and encouragement from like-minded artists, he continued to explore the optic possibilities of glass and its capacity to absorb, reflect, and transmit light.
Some later works in ‘Complete Cubes’ feature meditations on the cubic form and glass sculpture in which Bell returns to the motifs and methods of his early efforts. ‘Early and Late’ (2008, 20 inches), a cube produced in the late 2000s, recalls the pictorial treatment of surface of Bell’s first cubes. Three sides of this sculpture portray polygonal shapes. The end result is a sleek, nearly transparent cube with an elegant finish. It demonstrates decades of work with the vacuum deposition chamber and Bell’s full mastery of light and volume.
The exhibition concludes with a large-scale cubic construction comprised of three structures, each containing a cubic form within a cube. This structure was first debuted in his 1992 seminal work ‘Made for Arolson’ and has been utilized repeatedly throughout his career. In this new work for the LA presentation, ‘Blue Lapis’, ‘Red Poppy’, and ‘Optimum White’ interior structures interface with a fog-like outer form to harness the recent advancements in colored architectural glass, creating a sublime meditation on color interactions. While Bell’s glass cubes investigate the formal qualities of the material, these new sculptures focus on the way light and shadow manipulate the saturation of color.
Larry Bell was born in 1939 in Chicago IL, and lives and works between Taos NM and Venice CA. The artist has had scores of national and international solo exhibitions and is widely collected by many prominent museums.
‘Larry Bell. Complete Cubes’ will be on view at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles daily from Tuesday – Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm from 23 June through 23 September 2018.