Larry Bell at the Weisman Museum

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Larry Bell with "Pacific Red II," 2017
Photograph by Eric Minh Swenson

Anyone familiar with the work of Larry Bell will think of his pristine glass cubes coated in a mineral surface that captures and reflects light. A new show by Bell at the Weismann Museum at Pepperdine University in Malibu spins his ideas in a dramatically different direction. Pacific Red, curated by museum director Michael Zakian, pivots on a new installation of four right angles of translucent red glass that stand as a geometric maze through which you can walk, albeit carefully. You can look through the scarlet panels but also feel enclosed since the space between them is barely large enough to allow passage. You can see yourself reflected and it is sure to be a popular selfie destination.

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Larry Bell, "SF 8/21/11," 2011
Mixed media on paper
Courtesy of the Larry Bell Studio and Frank Lloyd Gallery
Photo by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp

Bell is known as a pioneer of Southern California-based Minimalism in the 1960s. The experience of walking through the piece can bring up thoughts of Richard Serra's huge corten steel sculptures. I walked through one at a show of his recent work at Gagosian in New York last fall. While both artists, and their sculptures, are powerful the differences are instructive. Where a Serra imposes, even intimidates, Bell seduces and embraces. The specificity of the angles refers nicely to the piece to the proportions of the low-ceilinged gallery. The height of each panel is not much more than that of the artist himself so the installation is on a human scale.

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Larry Bell, "C.S. 9.24.15 B," 2014
Mixed media on red Hiromi paper; 60 x 40 inches
Photo by Alan Shaffer

The main gallery features Bell's two-dimensional works, large sheets of paper coated with the mineral processes that he uses on glass. The amount of coating, the time that they are left in Bell's vacuum-coating machine, which is housed in his Taos, New Mexico studio, determine the colors. These works are mostly brilliant red, swirling, organic collages with the feminine curves of a guitar. Bell collects guitars, plays a 12-string, and holding those rounded shapes affected the evolution of this work. Ovoid patterns of glittering gold or silver gleam through the crimson, a palette never considered by Picasso, that influential master of collage as well as suggestive metaphor for the female nude.

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Larry Bell, "Ghost Box," 1962-63
Glass, mirror and acrylic on canvas; 48 1/2 x 48 1/2 x 3 inches

Suspended from the gallery ceiling is a grouping of Bell's light knots, sheets of mylar coated in the silvery finishes for which he is best known. I wish these could be seen better as they are spectacular but also quite fragile and must needs be above the fray.

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Larry Bell, "Untitled," 1959
Oil on canvas; 39 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches

Upstairs, the show continues with a small survey of Bell's earlier art: an early expressionist-style oil painting, his mid-1960s geometric paintings and sculptures embedded with mirror and his later works on paper using metallic coating but in atmospheric tones. These additional pieces lend important context for those who are not familiar with Bell's art and even for those who are. It is no surprise that Bell's unapologetically ravishing art has been selected for this spring's Whitney Biennial but you can get your preview right here in Malibu through April 2.