In describing Taos artist Larry Bell’s work, art critic Hunter Drohojowska-Philp has said, “Illumination on the ocean waters has an effect,” referring to his California coast years. Indeed, the work is fluid and vaporous, hard edged and reflective, architectural and organic. Bell’s art, which covers contemporary categories from architectural to conceptual, from ‘Light and Space’ to ‘Radiant Minimalism,’ is now on view in a survey exhibition at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum on the campus of Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
The exhibit, showing now through April 2, features the new site-specific installation “Pacific Red.” Michael Zakian, director of the museum, and Frank Lloyd, gallery director, curated the exhibition selecting more than 30 pieces created from 1959 to 2017.
The earlier works are on view in the upstairs gallery space. Visitors are greeted by “Untitled” (1959), a painter’s painting, using variations of lines, brush strokes, marks, rich color and even accidental drips. “Trust the feeling of the line, trust it. As long as you trust it, there’s faith in it. That’s when I started drawing squares,” according to “Larry Bell, Oral History,” Getty Research Institute. This is a well-curated selection of work that includes two of Bell’s iconic standing box works.
Recent work in the exhibit includes 13 “Light Knots” (2011-14), undulating Mylar twists using his signature vaporized coating process that hang from the ceiling. They appear to be Bell at his most playful and reminiscent of Warhol’s pillow-shaped Mylar “Silver Clouds” (1966). In this gallery, you’ll see 15 large-scale 40-inch-by-60-inch mixed media works on paper (2010-14). Inspired by the shapes from his guitar collection, it is evident here that guitars are also an homage to the female form. These drawings are red and brilliant, a precursor to the large “Pacific Red” sculpture in the next room.
“Pacific Red” is the star of this exhibit, a large sculpture comprised of six 6-foot-by-6-foot panels using variations of red glass approximately 30 feet in length. The reflective quality of the glass allows visitors a chance to perceive the work and – literally – reflect upon themselves. It’s a quality often seen in other works by Bell.
It isn’t all serious high-brow, thought-provoking art. At times through Bell’s career, a bit of humor enters the work. “I want to live in a world that has this humor in it all the time,” according to a Larry Bell oral history interview via the Getty Research Institute. A few years ago in Taos, his “You Can’t Clean Snot Off Suede” (1972) was exhibited at the Harwood Museum’s exhibition, “Hopper at the Harwood,” a show celebrating artist, collector and filmmaker Dennis Hopper.
What defines the art of Larry Bell? David Anthony Fine Art (DAFA) Gallery owner David Mapes states: “What I will say right off about Larry is he doesn’t seem to wax philosophic about his work. He has faith in his work and himself. He lets his work guide itself by what he learns along the way and, simply, he loves glass: its smoothness, strength and what it does with light.” DAFA was the most recent to exhibit Bell in Taos (2014).
Bell will be presenting a major “Light and Space” installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art as a selected artist for the Whitney Biennial March 17 to June 11. The Whitney Biennial showcases the most promising and influential contemporary artists today. The sculpture at the Whitney consists of six glass boxes – “Box in a Box, Pacific Reds” – using a range of shades of red from pink to deep red.
The boxes are 6 feet by 8 feet with a second 4-foot-by-6-foot box inside each one. The exhibit will be installed in a rooftop garden, allowing visitors to walk around the installation, blending their reflections with the iconic New York cityscape in these glass towers.
Bell has exhibited in Taos sporadically since 1975, when he first showed with Tally Richards Gallery of Contemporary Art. In her gallery, he exhibited the sculpture “Fracture of the Iceberg,” an early sculpture that allowed one to walk through it, around it and engage with it.
Richards, in her unpublished autobiography, writes lovingly about the exhibit of “Iceberg”: “who do I see … but the Mad Doctor Sager … all decked out in an orange, yellow and green plaid suit … wanting to go tripping down the aisle between Larry’s two rows of 8 foot tall plate-glass panels, facing each other on a warped, slanted, old wood floor. Rather than have him go alone, I took his hand and led him through. Meanwhile the ‘Fracture’ is reflecting this madness in various ways and the top prisms are reflecting the colors of the Doctor’s suit.” Only in Taos.
Today, you can view artworks by Bell at the Harwood Museum “Continuum” survey exhibit. For a real treat, check out two of his paintings at Shank on Ledoux Street and two more in the Holy Cross Hospital art collection.
The Frederick R. Weisman Museum is located at Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California. For more, visit arts.pepperdine.edu/museum.