Fine art

Magical qualities of glass

Harwood Museum rolls out the red carpet for Larry Bell's 'Hocus, Focus and 12'

By Robert Cafazzo
Posted 6/6/18

The exhibition, "Larry Bell: Hocus, Focus and 12," looks almost as if his work has spilled out of the artist's Taos studio and into the Harwood Museum of Art.Some of the work in the …

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Fine art

Magical qualities of glass

Harwood Museum rolls out the red carpet for Larry Bell's 'Hocus, Focus and 12'


The exhibition, "Larry Bell: Hocus, Focus and 12," looks almost as if his work has spilled out of the artist's Taos studio and into the Harwood Museum of Art.

Some of the work in the exhibit is from Bell's studio and some is from private collections. Much of the art in the exhibit is also from the Harwood Museum's collection.

Thanks to the generosity of local donors, the Harwood owns 127 works by Larry Bell. The bulk of the Harwood holdings of Bell's work are from the Gus Foster Collection. As guest curator for this exhibition, Foster has selected an elegant sampling of Bell's artworks for each gallery space. The artworks include the use of portals, reflections, inspirations, maquettes, consciousness, saturation and vapor.

"Larry Bell: Hocus, Focus and 12" is set to open with a members' reception Saturday (June 9) from noon-5 p.m. at the museum, where it will remain on view through Oct. 7. Two other exhibits — "Rafa Tarin: For Now" and "Peter Sarkisian: Mind Under Matter" — also will open the same day and time (an error in the time was publised in the print edition of Tempo).

The show's title refers to the magical qualities of glass, Bell's favored medium. "Glass is available anywhere. It is inexpensive. There are skilled fabricators available. It has a very long shelf life," he said.

Bell's work reflects and absorbs, creating a poetic atmosphere of light and transcendence. Sheets of glass can be used as a barrier or a wall, the surface of which can often be solid and cold. Bell uses glass in many variations, but mostly for its sensual surface and elegance. "The studio has various tools, not the least is the ability to impact on how light interacts with various surfaces. I work intuitively," he added.

The title of the exhibition also conjures up the idea of a magic spell.

Better stated, the artworks are akin to those of an alchemist, a person engaged in changing one thing into something else through a controlled method, which, in his case, involves thermal evaporation. Into a vacuum chamber he inserts a glass panel or a sheet of paper where a metal alloy, such as nickel chrome, is heated up until it evaporates.

The vapor then adheres to the surface of the paper or glass, which can be repeated for layering effects. Masking techniques enable him to give definition to the shapes he's after. Bell can also control the wavelengths differently to create a variety of results.

Upstairs, in the Joyce and Sherman Scott Gallery, is a collection of large-scale framed works on paper, called "Church Studies." The layering effect here creates the illusion of three-dimensional space, as if the elements of the compositions are about to tumble out of the frames.

Three of these "Church Studies" include scattered shapes alluding to sacred African "boli" figures (zoomorphic water buffalo shapes covered in hardened mud), reinforcing the spiritual affect of Bell's work. Also, many of the works on paper have the appearance of iridescent fabric.

In these works, one can see how a textural quality occurs randomly on the paper surface. Each artwork is alternated with one of Bell's 12-string guitars. The imagery references the human body or guitar body, not imagery of a church. They are titled after the church that was converted into his studio space in Venice, California.

Three "Light Knots" hang from the ceiling as you descend the main stairwell. The "Knots" may look like crumpled mylar at first glance, but like much of Bell's work, take the time to let it throw reflections of dazzling light over you as they turn slowly in midair.

Take a look at the series of 50 "Fractions" on the wall below the "Knots." Normally, seeing the "Fractions" behind framed reflective glass has a tendency to push the viewer away.

The difference between seeing the "Fractions" behind glass and the way Foster has chosen to display them here, simply pinned to the wall, allows the viewer to experience these small works on paper in a completely new way. Here they've become colorful portals, allowing the viewer to enter a vortex.

Down the hallway, past the Agnes Martin Collection, are a series of maquettes, miniature studies of large-scale installations. They are examples of Bell's working process.

In the main room of the Ribak-Mandleman Gallery is where the two large sculptures, "Gus' Berg" (1975) and "Venice Fog I" (2017), are on view. They are both mesmerizing. These two sculptures are the bookends to the entire exhibition.

Walk around them, interact with the reflections on them and slowly move towards each of them. The sculptures are displayed here with bare walls to allow a more effective interaction of a transcendental state of mind.

Some of Bell's art illustrates the preference of contemporary California artists for making objects rather than pictures. A few of these artists include Robert Irwin, Ken Price, Ed Keinholzvc and Ed Moses. Bell, the illusionist, the alchemist, lies somewhere on the spectrum between the transcendentalist painter Raymond Jonson and the contemporary light and space installations of James Turrell.

Bell said, they are "an ongoing study in improvisation, spontaneity, intuition. My main focus has been the interface of light and surface between various materials."

In the last few years, a few pivotal exhibitions have returned focus on the artwork of Larry Bell: the 2013-14 exhibit at London's White Cube Gallery "Larry Bell: Light Knots and Mirage Paintings", and the inclusion of artworks and photographs of Bell himself in the Getty Museum's 2011-12 group exhibition "Pacific Standard Time." The 1997 exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum with companion catalogue "Zones of Experience: The Art of Larry Bell" was the largest survey of his work to date

Bell's popularity peaked during the 2017 Whitney Biennial in New York City. He was among 63 artists selected, with "Pacific Red II," composed of six glass cubes, featured on the Whitney Museum's rooftop terrace. The installation was the most talked about and shared social media photo-op experience at the Biennial.

With a newfound burst of interest in his artwork, Bell has been extremely busy with five (Taos, Aspen, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berlin) exhibitions opening during the month of June. The Harwood Museum has shown a few pieces of Bell's artwork from time to time through the years. The new exhibit here is much more.

"What we will show are selections from the studio activities over the years," Bell said. "As far as I am concerned none is more important than the other."

Through the efforts of curator Foster, the Harwood has created a must-see exhibition of the various art forms of Larry Bell. As of press time, decisions were still being made whether or not to include the "The Time Machine" and a few other surprises.

Bell was asked, "Why Taos?"and "Do you have any advice for Taos artists?"

He replied: "I am comfortable here. I like how quiet it is. I like how little car traffic there is. I like the weather. I like the people. My children were all born and raised here. As far as advice to Taos artists, keep the faith, trust the work as your teacher and believe in what you do."

The Harwood Museum of Art is located at 238 Ledoux Street in Taos. For more information, call (575) 758-9826 or visit

Also on view

Rafa Tarin: ‘FOR NOW’

Opening reception is Saturday (June 9), noon-5 p.m.

This summer, The Harwood Museum of Art presents the works of Peñasco-based artist Rafa Tarín and a collection of paintings titled “FOR NOW.” This powerful series of works adds to the traditional Hispanic Traditions Gallery on the second floor contemporary works, bringing the conversation of current issues facing Northern New Mexico to the Harwood Museum.

“These are urgent times, not more concerning perhaps than at other times in contemporary (so-called) U.S. history,” Tarin said in a prepared statement. “U.S capitalism and its corporatocratic minions have always been at war with those that it deems antithetical to its project of global domination – indigenous, black, brown, woman and girls, youth, immigrant, the economically struggling, queer, trans, people with disabilities, people with chronic illnesses, the neurodiverse, the incarcerated, people working for justice.” These selected paintings represent curated images within a larger body of work that reflects Tarin’s shape-shifting positionality as a gender non-conforming, queer, xicanx, parent, artist, intersectional feminist and transformative arts educator.

“As a writer, educator and artist, Tarín’s process starts out as words: poems, articles, stories, stats, and meditations. For Tarín, as language fades into the background, images emerge that form a visual lengua, culturally coded, amplifying an aesthetic rooted in xicanx culture and cosmology. These mixed media images created over the several years illustrate Tarín’s musings on intimate relationships, healing, self-love, gender indoctrination, motherhood, xicanx feminism, war, occupation and femicide. They are meant to promote visibility, stimulate awareness, and spark action.”

Tarín is a northeast Los Angeles born, self-taught artist with deep New Mexican roots. They are a transformative arts educator working with Northern New Mexico youth in the disciplines of visual art, puppetry, stilt-walking and devised physical theater for the past 15 years.

This event is free and open to the public.

Peter Sarkisian: ‘Mind Under Matter’

Opening reception is Saturday (June 9), noon-5 p.m.

Named a Master Video Artist in 2007 by the National Endowment for the Arts, Peter Sarkisian is a new-media artist whose brilliant fusion of video projection and sculpture yields multi-media projects combining rare qualities in cutting-edge contemporary video: fluent postmodern allegory, virtuoso command of the medium, and lean, compelling humanism. Sarkisian’s digital tableaux can be read as real-time riffs on modern life. Sarkisian’s allegory often features a modern-day Everyman familiar from medieval English morality plays, reprised here as the universal yet ordinary human being placed in extraordinary circumstances, mired in trivia or imperiled by some moral dilemma.

This event is free and open to the public.

Studio 238: ‘New Paintings’ by Tom Rogers

Presently on view

The Harwood Museum of art is launching the summer art season with a series of openings in June. The first of which is a Studio 238 exhibition for Tom Rogers, titled “New Paintings.” The concept that inspires his recent paintings is modest but sensuous: rhythmic combinations of saturated color and an array of shapes and patterns.

For Rogers, the act of painting means playing in space, exploring and experimenting in pursuit of visual intrigue and amusement. His method makes use of the juxtaposition of vibrational colors, quizzical and illusory optical effects, and ambiguous foreground-background relationships.

His artist statement reads, “Making my art is a joyous, fulfilling endeavor. Each piece has its own animated background story. Creating new shapes, patterns and color relationships that are the foundation for each piece is an intellectual and mechanical process. The image then starts to get its soul when I draw the linear design by hand. I often will scan a small sketch into a computer to develop and elaborate on the design, to play with scale and to evaluate color ideas. I am enthusiastic about mixing traditional painting techniques and new electronic technology. I carefully consider surface texture, edges, and, at times, I consciously reveal the drawing beneath the paint. I like to work with oil paint alone, without other mixtures or media. Applying the pure fluid pigment is one of the most pleasurable aspects of my work. It is wonderfully meditative and transcendent.”

For Rogers, art functions in part to inspire feelings, memories and response. He presents his paintings in order to provide that inspiration, amuse viewers, and to counterbalance the weightier considerations that seem ubiquitous in these times. Rogers is a native of New Jersey, having lived and worked in Taos, New Mexico, since 1989. He studied at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn; Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey; and, Florida International University in Miami. His work has been exhibited widely in Taos, and has been shown as well in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, the New York City area, Atlanta and Miami.

Studio 238 is a pop-up gallery exhibition at the Harwood Museum of Art offering contemporary local artists an opportunity to show their work. These rotating one-month exhibitions provide a space for new series of works, experimental or traditional, to both established and emerging local artists.


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