Larry Bell



Not on display

Larry Bell born 1939
Metal and glass
Object: 222 × 222 × 222 mm
Purchased 1972

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

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Catalogue entry

Larry Bell born 1939

T01696 Untitled 1964

Not inscribed
Gold plated metal and glass, 8 3/8 x 8 3/8 x 8 3/8 (21.2 x 21.2 x 21.2)
Purchased from the artist through the Felicity Samuel Gallery, London (Grant-in-Aid) 1972
Exh: VIII Bienal, São Paulo, September-November 1965 (US section, not numbered but repr. in colour in US catalogue as 'Untitled, Gold Box' 1964); United States Exhibition, VIII São Paulo Bienal, National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, January-March 1966 (works not numbered, repr. in colour)
Lit: Fidel A. Danieli, 'Bell's Progress' in Artforum, V, Summer 1967, pp.68-71

After his mirror boxes, Bell turned to making cubes which possessed at first two, then as here, six, equal opposed planes, including both mirrored surfaces and transparent design elements (usually with ellipses or partial ellipses). Larry Bell said that the ellipse pattern was based on a series of paintings which was begun but never finished. He made a number of cubes with ellipse patterns, but most of them have each side the same. T01696 was probably the only one to have all six planes different. The design on the sides was based on an ellipse whose contours were gradually eaten into by another smaller ellipse encroaching upon it from the side progressively further and further, until the small ellipse appears complete inside the first. The design on the top shows the smaller ellipse in the centre of the larger one, while on the bottom the larger ellipse is seen on its own.

The glass was treated by an optical coating firm in Los Angeles using dialectric films. The colours are produced by interference filters which cut off certain bands of light. The inner side of each sheet of glass was coated all-over with dichroic, then the ellipse design was masked off and the rest coated with aluminium. While the reflecting surfaces treated with aluminium appear golden, the transparent areas are blue, purple and sometimes even green, depending on the angle from which they are viewed. He said that this box has perhaps the most intense colour of all the boxes and is also one of the few with gold framing. (In general the width and thickness of the frame is a guide to the date of the boxes, as he tended to make the frames narrower as he went on). The combination of transparent and reflecting surfaces, the colours, the patterns, the variety of effects obtained by looking at and into the boxes of this type from different angles produced an impression of great complexity and density; the small scale was an integral part of this.

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, pp.41-2, reproduced p.41

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