Larry Bell: Venice Fog: Recent Investigations
Hauser & Wirth, Zürich
19 January – 3 March 2018
Review by Eva Szwarc
A fixation with glass structures and their interactions with light have dominated Larry Bell’s practice throughout his career. In his latest exhibition, Venice Fog: Recent Investigations, Bell continues his fascination with this material, drawing inspiration from the atmospheric fog of Californian mornings. Glass cubes are coated with evanescent films of colour, conveying the ethereal illusion of suspended vapour inside. Each large cube contains a second smaller one within which is again coated like this and reflects, refracts and transmits light in an infinite array of combinations across the gallery space.
The captivating allure of Bell’s work is tricky to pinpoint with words. To call the cubes hypnotic would imply they contain a certain spot coaxing the viewer in - yet the internal and external do not vie for attention. Rather than creating a hierarchy of focus, glass and light interact both within the cubes and on a larger environmental scale, encompassing the room with prismatic effect. The transmissive quality of the glass allows triangulated shadows to fall across the room, some subtly infused with the candy-floss pink of one cube and each of varying intensity and opacity. The shadows cast incorporate the entire space, overlapping one-another to bring each double-cube structure together as a unified work.
The coloured veneer of each panel plays an optical trick on the eye. The absorption of light hazes the clear lines of each cube, rendering the empty space within them mesmeric. Such subtle diffusion of boundaries between solid material and empty space shifts our sense of perception, leaving us to distinguish where the delineations fall and where the space may be occupied. An accompanying series of maquettes do not function in the same way optically but offer a condensed version of their monumental counterparts, underlining the impact of scale. The large cubes also contain an interactive dynamic that is activated when walking around the cubes. Your presence is reflected and everything within the surrounding space is brought into play.
The minutiae of human interference in the works are absent; not even a trace of Bell’s fingertips is left. Aesthetically speaking, this contributes to the slick style often associated with Larry Bell’s work. For the viewer, however, this renders the visual experience more immersive. The diffused pigments within the smooth panels create an almost haptic tangibility of empty space, into which you can be absorbed and out of which a reverie may be plucked. Such quality is somewhat lost during daylight hours, when the gallery windows reflect boldly on the glass surface and detract from the subtleties at play. Of course, this is all part of the constant changeability of Venice Fogs, in which the interactions between glass and light vary across the day.
Initially, light came as a coincidental by-product of the artist’s early work with glass. He has since explored the phenomenological possibilities and optical tricks in combining both. Though the evanescent cubes communicate Bell’s technical skill and precision, the more time spent with these works reveals that he’s almost capable of creating a type of visual magic.