T01473 Untitled 1971
Coated glass, 10 units, each 72 x 60 x 1/4 (183 x 152.5 x 0.7); overall dimensions 72 x 213 x 63 (183 x 540 x 160)
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1971
Exh: 11 Los Angeles Artists, Hayward Gallery, London, September-November 1971 (24, repr.)
Lit: R.C. Kennedy, 'London Letter' in Art International, XV, 20 December 1971, pp.87-8; 'Larry Bell - an interview with Alastair Mackintosh' in Art and Artists, VI, January 1972, p.39, the Hayward Gallery installation repr. pp.38 and 40
By the spring of 1968, Larry Bell felt that he had exhausted the possibilities of the box format, that he had 'refined it out of existence' (though in fact he did not entirely give up making boxes until 1969). He told John Coplans in an interview published in the catalogue of the Los Angeles Six exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery in March-May 1968 that what interested him most about his later boxes all seemed to happen in certain sections of the unit and the box format had become an inhibiting factor which he felt he had to destroy or pass beyond. He had therefore begun to experiment with works of an environmental character and to create a space which people could walk around and into, and at the same time see through. (More specifically, he told the compiler on 7 February 1972 that he spent about six months at this time considering his work and its possibilities, then finally decided that the most interesting phenomena occurred at the edges, where the planes met; and this discovery made it possible for him to work on a larger scale, as he had wanted to do for some time).
The piece bought by the Tate was made specially for the exhibition of Los Angeles artists at the Hayward Gallery. The sheets of glass were silvered by vacuum deposition, a process which is also used for making camera lenses and which produces a greater deposit near the source. He had acquired a large vacuum chamber in 1969 which made it possible for him to work on this scale. Although he had seen photographs of the Hayward Gallery beforehand and been given the dimensions of the space, he found when he first tried to install it that it was completely unsuited to the setting and he had therefore to rearrange it entirely.
He has described what happened in a letter of 19 October 1971 to R.C. Kennedy subsequently published in Art International:
'I had originally conceived of the piece as ten panels of glass, fastened together at the edges in one long series of right angles to run diagonally across the room that I had been given. I had been given the dimensions of my space approximately three months prior. On assembly at the Hayward Gallery, much to my surprise the piece did not accommodate the room in the way I had expected it would. After studying the set up for a few hours we dismantled the piece and re-assembled it reversing its position in the room. At that point it was very clear that the piece as it was did not work in this place at all. I am not sure what was wrong - possibly the proportions of the individual panels when used collectively to make one long unit were clumsy. I then proceeded to rearrange the piece by shortening it, removing parts, thus relieving what I would call a lateral visual stress. With the removal of two parts the piece started to look less clumsy, however it still did not relate to the room it was in.
'After studying this possibility I came to the conclusion that the entire format of the use of the space had to be changed drastically to make the piece come together visually as a single unit. The final arrangement of the gallery came after moving and rearranging the parts at least 50 times. One thing that became clear to me, and in my mind made the whole Hayward experience worthwhile and fruitful, was that I had not been aware of the enormous flexibility inherent in work that I had been involved with for approximately four years. It was truly an experience that I shall not forget soon.'
Whereas the arrangement at the Hayward Gallery consisted of pairs of panels carefully placed here and there, some distance apart, Larry Bell installed the work at the Tate in October 1979 in two parallel zigzag rows of five, with a passage 30in (76cm) wide between them.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.42-4, reproduced p.42