Larry Bell: Smoke On The Bottom At White Cube

8th May 2017

Part artist, part mad scientist, Larry Bell’s works re-examine perspective in forms of monochromatic abstraction.
White Cube recently opened their latest exhibition of Larry Bell, the American conceptual artist. Born in 1939, Bell has been exhibiting around the world with great acclaim in recent years, and has been known in the UK since his 1970 show at Tate alongside Robert Irwin and Doug Wheeler. He is also part of this year’s Whitney Biennial, which is open until June 11.

His latest London show, titled: Smoke On The Bottom, brings together several of the artist’s key works spanning his career. There are some of his early abstract paintings that display his first forays in to conceptual art while he was exploring new techniques and ideas during the 1960s, as well as eleven of his recent Church Studies collage works. Each work is a densely layered collage combining paper, film and props that have been coated in a ‘vacuum thermal evaporation machine’, which Bell has used since the '60s to create curvaceous and sensuous abstract images.

Larry Bell, ‘6 x 6 An Improvisation', Chinati, Marfa, Texas, October 2014 – July 2015, Mixed media, 112 5/8 x 55 11/16 x 4 in. (286.1 x 141.5 x 10.1 cm), © Larry Bell. Photo © Alex Marks, 2014 Courtesy Chinati Foundation.

However the centrepiece of the show is a labyrinthine installation called 6 x 6 An Improvisation (1989-2014). The work is Bell’s largest glass wall installation to date and consists of forty panels fusing grey, clear and chrome alloy coated panels each in six foot squares, referencing the artist’s height. Arranged in a site-specific shape, the work is re-improvised for each exhibition to create a maze that refracts and reflects that light, texture and shape of its current environment. It becomes a monumental, ephemeral box of light that adapts to its surroundings and creates a different dialogue between itself and each visitor, highlighting Bell’s creative approach to how art interacts with the audience.

The show also features drawings that employ the same coating process Bell uses on his glass, that spread a layer of quartz and aluminium over the surface of each work creating glistening optical effects where light dances on the gradients of the images. Bells other series Ellipse continues this theme of exploring the properties of light and how it varies on materials. Rainbows shimmer on silicon monoxide coated black paper and curved bands of texture distort geometric compositions that fade in to darkness.

Larry Bell, LNVF 5, 1979, Aluminium with silicon monoxide on Stonehenge paper, 65 13/16 x 42 1/2 in. (167.2 x 108 cm), 70 x 46 11/16 x 2 3/8 in. (177.8 x 118.6 x 6 cm) (framed), © Larry Bell. Photo © White Cube (George Darrell)

Part artist, part mad scientist, Bell’s works re-examine perspective in forms of monochromatic abstraction. This latest show at White Cube Bermondsey helps solidify his role as a key conceptual artist of the last fifty years, exploring the dynamics of light and dark on man made materials to suggest both two and three dimensional forms.

The show is testament to not only Bell’s significance, but also White Cube’s constant championing of the most contemporary arts. They may have moved away from the art of the shocking that was all the rage in the '90s and '00s, in to a more minimalist and refined approach, but the consistency of their shows and their commitment to thought provoking art never ceases to push the right boundaries.
Larry Bell: Smoke On The Bottom at White Cube Bermondsey, London, SE1 3TQ, 28 April – 18 June 2017.

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