Larry Bell: 6 x 6 An Improvisation

Larry Bell: 6 x 6 An Improvisation

In October 2014, the Chinati Foundation opened an exhibition of work by Larry Bell. The exhibition focused on Bell’s large freestanding glass sculptures, a type of work that he first showed in 1969 and continued to develop and exhibit until the late 1990s. Due to their fragility, few have survived. The exhibition in Marfa was the first in almost two decades to show the Standing  Walls, as Bell calls them, in a selection of half a dozen works of different sizes and configurations. The exhibition was curated by Marianne Stockebrand, the Chinati Foundation’s Director Emerita. The exhibition  remained open through July 2015.

For the exhibition Larry Bell assembled 32 same-sized glass panels to form 16 same-shaped standing units. Using both clear and dark gray glass, as well as partially coated panels, the artist placed corners throughout the U-shaped gallery in a sequence of narrower and wider distances while at the same time alternating, or mixing, the different kinds of glass. All 16 units in the exhibition constitute one work.

Glass has been of interest to Larry Bell since the early 1960s when he began using it in smaller works, predominantly cubes. Its properties of transmitting, absorbing, and reflecting light have been a driving force in creating works ever since. In the late 1960s he made his first large free-standing glass sculptures, or “Standing Walls” as he prefers to call them, consisting of two or more parts that were configured into corners, squares, zig-zag walls, etc. Their sizes can reach a height of eight feet. Mostly conceived for indoor placement, some of his works were specifically made for outdoor sites.

As the exhibition title indicates, Bell approached the installation in an improvisational way insofar as he had no preconceived plan other than wanting to respond to the given architectural situation by employing a maximum of 39 glass panels—the number of panels at his disposition. Because the gallery’s concrete floor was too uneven to provide the long glass panels with a stable position, it was covered with a carpet, although certain areas remained unfit for placement. To position the works, Bell also took cues from the windows, the symmetry of the space and its measurements and, most importantly, the light. The effect of all these components on the glass was hard to describe. As the clear glass transmitted more light than gray glass, the lighter panels could be nearly invisible whereas the darker ones revealed stunning reflections when, for instance, the two panels appeared to be doubled, or when floor lines suddenly ran crosswise, and windows both in front of and behind the viewer were all reflected on the same plane. The overlaying of such impressions resulted in stunning complexities and surprises.

The partially coated glass panels represent a specific characteristic that Larry Bell developed in the sixties, initially for his smaller sized cubes, and later used for the Standing Walls. Through a thermal evaporation process, a very thin layer of nickel-chrome is laid onto the glass with the result that they can become reflective like a mirror. Only half of the panels are coated while the other half remain clear and transparent.

Larry Bell (b. 1939) lives and works in Taos, New Mexico and Venice, California. He studied at the Chouinard Art Institute and Otis College of Art, both in Los Angeles. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he made paintings and began as soon as 1961 to incorporate glass into small objects. In 1964 he made his first glass cubes, initially in smaller sizes, later up to 44 inches per square. His first large Standing Walls date from 1968. Bell continued to make these works over subsequent years although due to their fragility and difficulty in handling they are less frequently shown. While the Standing Walls are typically individual works, the exhibition at the Chinati Foundation was the first to be one work in multiple parts.