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Larry Bell

American Painter and Sculptor

Larry Bell Photo
Movement: Light and Space

Born: December 6, 1939 - Chicago, USA

"My work is about the various properties of light and the way it interacts with surfaces."

Summary of Larry Bell

"You need light to see, you need space to work," Larry Bell has wryly stated on more than one occasion when asked for his thoughts on the Light and Space movement with which the celebrated artist has been associated since its inception in the mid-1960s. More of a loosely affiliated group of artists than a cohesive movement, Light and Space is a distinctly Southern California style, concurrent with the Finish/Fetish trend, said to reflect the influence of the distinct light of the region and the inclination to use non-traditional, often industrial, materials to explore this phenomenon. For Bell, the singular concern with light, or rather the visual properties of light on a surface, remains a lifelong subject of exploration. His iconic glass cube sculptures, for which the artist is best known today, are mesmerizing examples of this investigation. The translucent cubes, at first stoic and austere, slowly reveal poignant experiences to the faithful viewer. The minimalist geometric sculptures offer a kinesthetic experience, as illusory shapes appear and evaporate within the cubic volume as one moves around the work.

Bell's desire to toy with the viewer's perception is a trait shared with other artists affiliated with Light and Space, most notably Robert Irwin and James Turrell. The legacy of Bell, however, is not only material but also conceptual. For the pursuit of industrial materials represented a rejection of art as an object, a dominant theoretical underpinning of Minimalism, in pursuit of art as experience. The use of glass, mirror, metallic films, paper and leftover scraps of Mylar were, for the artist, a means to an end, not the end itself. There were materials through which Bell interacted with his primary medium, light, and was able to transmit that experience to the viewer.

Key Ideas

Larry Bell is among the first generation of artists to shape the contemporary avant-garde art scene in Los Angeles, the youngest artist to join the roster of the legendary Ferus Gallery with a solo exhibition in 1962. The gallery's artists were later bestowed the title of "The Cool School" in a 1964 essay by Philip Leider, critic and managing editor of Art Forum, who defined the group as having a "collective hatred of the superfluous" and concluded that "a construction of Larry Bell's, for example, cries 'Hand's off!' (This quality of distance, coldness, austerity has become the trademark of Ferus Gallery installations.)"
Bell's cube sculptures exemplify the hard-edged appearance of Post-Painterly Abstraction and Minimalism, but create a markedly different experience. Instead of creating a distinctly defined, and inherently neutral object, Bell's glass sculptures appear ephemeral, constantly changing in response to their surroundings as well as the viewer's movement around the work. Therefore, the true subject is not the art object, per se, but the transformation of light in response to it.
The artist is sometimes associated with a style of art known as Finish/Fetish. This movement, also known as the "LA Look," is characterized by immaculate surfaces, use of fabrication techniques, and use of new materials (industrial paints, resins, plastics) inspired by Southern California popular culture (i.e., cars, surf and sun) and the aerospace industry. Bell's use of metallic vacuum-coating technologies serves a prime example of this inclination.
Larry Bell Photo

Larry Bell was born in Chicago in 1939. The family moved to California in 1945 when Larry was five years old. His father was an insurance salesman and his mother would later re-enroll in community college to study art. The family resided in what was then the rural community of Van Nuys located in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles. He recalls being the first family on his street to own a television set, which became a strong influence during his youth.

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