Larry Bell



Larry Bell born 1939
Glass and wood
Object: 349 x 324 x 222 mm
Purchased 1972

Not on display

Display caption

Based in Los Angeles, Bell?s work reflects a preoccupation by some West Coast artists with light and space. The three boxes shown here demonstrate his various technical approaches to achieving their distinctive surfaces. The chequer-board pattern of Untitled (1962) was made by scraping away squares from a mirror, which he then painted black. The smoked effect on the four mirrored squares in the centre was achieved by applying a thin coating to the glass in a vacuum environment. The oval patterns of Untitled (1964) were made by covering the glass with a chemical treatment that cuts off certain bands of light, so that they appear in different colours depending on the viewing angle. Bell later abandoned patterned cubes in favour of plain glass ones, achieving a suffused effect by coating their surfaces with a thin film of quartz and chromium, as in Untitled (1967)

Gallery label, May 2003

Catalogue entry

Larry Bell born 1939

T01695 Untitled 1962

Not inscribed
Wood and glass, 12 3/4 x 12 3/4 x 8 3/4 (32.5 x 32.5 x 21.2)
Purchased from the artist through the Felicity Samuel Gallery, London (Grant-in-Aid) 1972
Lit: Fidel A. Danieli, 'Bell's Progress' in Artforum, V, Summer 1967, pp.68-71; Barbara Haskell, Introduction to exh. catalogue Larry Bell, Pasadena Art Museum, April-June 1972

In the early 1960s, Larry Bell's paintings became increasingly concerned with the creation of an illusion of volumes on a flat surface, based on an isometric projection of a cube. Certain of these works incorporated pieces of mirrored and transparent glass. Then in 1962 he began to make actual boxes.

T01695 is typical of his earliest boxes in being oblong and not cubic, and in that it is only possible to see into it from one side. The planes are partly mirrored, partly opaque (black) and partly transparent. The back plane is entirely covered with a chequer-board pattern of squares alternately black and mirrored. Larry Bell said that he made it by buying a household mirror and scraping away squares which he then painted black. The front plane repeats this pattern, except that instead of black squares there are squares of clear glass through which one can look into the interior of the box and see a complex play of patterns and reflections; also the four mirrored squares in the centre each have two corners cut off diagonally. This effect was achieved by a process of vacuum deposition and masking out, and was Bell's very first use of vacuum deposition in a construction. The squares in the centre with the corners cut off are intended to suggest flat diagrams of a cube and refer (as he said 'like a signature') to certain of the shaped paintings he was making before he started to make constructions. The interior of the box was coated with silver leaf, with a mirror strip. It was the third or fourth box he made of this type; two of a similar kind are owned by his parents.

Larry Bell said that he kept the three boxes T01695, T01696 and T01697 together as a group because he thought that they represented very clearly the main stages in the development of his boxes. They were sent to the Felicity Samuel Gallery, London, on the occasion of his exhibition there in November-December 1972, but were not publicly exhibited.

(The notes on this work, T01696 and T01697 are based on information given by the artist on 15 October 1974).

Published in:
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, p.41, reproduced p.41