A leading figure of Southern California’s Light and Space movement, Larry Bell explores the intersections of light, color, and volume through glass. Since the early 1960s his experimentations with how visitors encounter his sculptures within an environment have included vacuum-coating his glass panels with metallic particles to create reflective and translucent surfaces and forms. This exhibition at Dia Beacon brings together a focused selection of Bell’s early sculptures from key small cubes to one of his first free-standing sculptures, Standing Walls (1968), now in Dia’s collection. These will be presented alongside Duo Nesting Boxes (2021), a new diptych conceived for Dia that references both the open-form autonomy of Bell’s standing walls and the geometry of his signature cubes. In keeping with Bell’s most recent interests in the apparent saturation and density of color, Duo Nesting Boxes consists of layered panels of green and blue glass.
Larry Bell is organized by Alexis Lowry, curator, Dia Art Foundation, with Zuna Maza, curatorial assistant.
Larry Bell is made possible by generous support from Hauser & Wirth and Graham Steele. Additional support provided by Anthony Meier and a Board Discretionary Grant of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Special thanks to Kvadrat.
In the early 1960s Larry Bell became a leading figure of Southern California’s Light and Space movement, exploring the interplay between light, color, and volume through the medium of glass. Like other artists associated with the movement, he turned to new materials and techniques to create sculptures that were spatially and perceptually expansive. Initially a painter, Bell studied at Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in the late 1950s. He quickly became interested in sculpture and produced a series of increasingly three-dimensional shaped paintings and constructions, often embellished with mirrors in geometric patterns. Bell’s early experiments proved crucial to his developing interest in the space of the viewer’s encounter with a work of art.
Bell’s initial sculptures were simple glass cubes placed flush to the edge of clear acrylic pedestals, which gave them the appearance of floating in space. These works drew on the rectilinear architectural volumes of the studio space they were made in. To make these sculptures Bell first used regular store-bought mirrors, onto which he scratched patterns in forms that recall his paintings. He then discovered a plating process that allowed him to apply reflective metallic particles to glass with more precision. Untitled (1964) and Black Chrome Ellipse (1965) are both characteristic of this work. In the former, panes of glass are animated by a paisley pattern abstracted from a necktie, while in the latter, elliptical shapes are embedded into each side of a cube. As the viewer moves around these objects, the sides appear to overlap and slip apart, framing space and filtering light dynamically. Bell also explored varying the size of the boxes—as in Untitled (1965), Untitled (1967), and Untitled (1967–69)—and he began focusing his attention on how color appears most intensely concentrated along the edges and corners.
In 1968 Bell produced his first freestanding sculptures, including Standing Walls II (1968). Comprised of alternating panels of clear and gray glass placed successively at right angles, Standing Walls II isolates and magnifies the right angles that so fascinated Bell in his early boxes. Each panel is 7 x 4 feet, dimensions that relate to the human body but are deliberately larger, gesturing towards the architectural casing of the gallery itself.
Throughout his career Bell has continued to explore the cube and the corner as central formal and spatial devices, while also turning his attention more concertedly to color and saturation. His recent sculpture Duo Nesting Boxes (2021) is a diptych that combines the open-form autonomy of his standing walls and the geometry of his signature cubes. Enlarged cubes composed from clear and translucent green and blue glass are enfolded within similarly colored standing walls, creating a perceptually enveloping effect. The blues and greens shift and change with the natural light of their environment. While the artist has frequently placed his standing sculptures on neutrally shaded carpeted surfaces for the sake of stability, here he has introduced color to this material for the first time, incorporating the lower planar field into the sculptural whole.
1. Untitled, 1964
Vacuum-coated glass with chrome-plated brass
Private collection, Asia
2. Black Chrome Ellipse, 1965
Chrome-plated glass with black chrome-plated brass
3. Untitled, 1965
Glass coated with nickel and silicon monoxide with chrome-plated brass
4. Untitled, 1967
Chrome-plated glass with chrome-plated brass
Collection Bill and Sheila Lambert
5. Untitled, 1967–69
Glass coated with nickel and silicon monoxide with rhodium-plated brass
Yusaku Maezawa Collection, Chiba, Japan
6. Duo Nesting Boxes, 2021
Courtesy Graham Steele
7. Standing Walls I, 1968/2017
Gray and clear glass
Dia Art Foundation
Larry Bell was born in 1939 in Chicago. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) from 1957 to 1959. Bell turned to glass as a sculptural medium in the early 1960s, producing simple cubes that he placed on acrylic pedestals. Out of these objects, Bell’s work expanded into increasingly large and perceptually complex arrangements of freestanding panels. The artist has been featured in numerous solo presentations, including at the Aspen Art Museum, Colorado; the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; the Musée d’art contemporain, Lyon, France; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. His notable recognitions include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1975), a National Endowment for the Arts grant (1975), and the Governor’s Award for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts from the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs (1990). Bell lives between Venice Beach, California, and Taos, New Mexico.
Larry Bell was born in Chicago in 1939. He lives and works in Los Angeles and Taos, New Mexico.