Untitled from Terminal Series
Larry Bell
American, born 1939

Glass and chrome
12 1/8 x 12 1/8 x 12 1/4 inches

Larry Bell's glass cube manifests the "less is more" aesthetic that drove much twentieth-century geometric abstraction. Reducing compositional elements to a minimum is, however, a risky artistic endeavor; viewers often find the work simplistic, without visual interest, and nothing more than a modernist joke. Artists, on the other hand, have conceived reductivism as a means to distill form to a purer essence, to focus on a medium’s constituent elements, and to produce a distraction-free work that can induce a contemplative, even spiritual, attitude. As Larry Bell's Untitled, 1968, demonstrates, condensing form can also intensify perceptual experience.

Untitled sits on a thirty-eight-inch-high Plexiglas pedestal.(1) The height and transparency of this base, which allows light to enter the cube from below, contributes to a sense that Untitled is floating in space. At the same time, the pedestal is clearly a sculptural support and, as such, signals that it is elevating a work of art (rather than merely holding "a glass box"). The cube itself is an immaculate fabrication of smoke-colored glass framed by chrome strips. To achieve the subtle tinting, Bell employed a High Vacuum Optical Coating Machine, originally manufactured for the United States Air Force to coat the glass surfaces of fighter plane cockpits.(2) This vacuum chamber allowed the artist to chemically bind four extraordinarily thin layers of atomized mineral/metal compounds to the glass.(3) Bell aimed to achieve a gradient coating that would fade subtly from the edges toward the center of each glass pane.(4) This, and the accompanying shifting nuances of color and light that the artist intended, are less evident in Untitled than in other works in the Terminal Series. Instead, Untitled's greater overall surface and formal consistency evince a wholeness, perfection, and preciousness that evoke the aura of a Platonic ideal.

 Mark Thistlethwaite

(1) The artist intended all of the pieces in this series to be fifty inches high, no matter the size of the individual cube. The artist in an e-mail message to the author, 18 April 2001.
(2) Douglas Davis, Art and the Future (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973): 44. 
(3) John Coplans, Serial Imagery (Pasadena: Pasadena Art Museum, 1968): 60. 
(4) Bell e-mail message, 18 April 2001.

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