New York

Larry Bell

Pace Gallery

Larry Bell showed two works at Pace similar to those shown last year in which his now characteristic vacuum-plated glass panes stand vertically at right angles on the floor. As has often been described, Bell’s vacuum-plating process results in a pane of glass which is transparent on the left side, for example, and is a mirror on the right side; between those two extremes is a confusing middle ground in which the transparent almost imperceptibly becomes mirror so that the center portion of the glass is both at once. To move from the mirrored portion of the glass, in which one sees a bright clear reflection of oneself, toward the transparent portion is, in effect, to watch oneself disappear like a person in a Duane Michals photograph; only this is not a photograph, it is happening, as they say, before our very eyes. In the subtle change from mirror to transparency, the right-angled glass panes in combination with the constancy of the gallery room, which looks pretty much the same whether seen through the glass or reflected in it, other things happen illusionistically beyond noticing one’s person fading away. Basically it is the confusion of illusionism: What are we looking at? The configuration of glass panes from several points of view cannot be grasped; the configuration appears vastly more complicated than it is—after all, how complicated is a right angle? And once in the grip of Bell’s magic glasses, we lose power to distinguish whether we are seeing through the glass or a reflection, it all becomes the same. So much giddy illusion would have driven Plato right out of his mind, and beyond getting rid of the allegory of the cave, might have significantly improved his conception of appearance-reality.

Of the two works in the show, one consists simply of two glass panes butted at right angles, and the other of a similar right angle nested in one of the right angles of a zigzag right-angled configuration, with enough room between the two elements to walk. The more complicated work seemed less interesting simply because the increase of elements didn’t increase the effect—it was only more complicated. The other work with only a single right angle had an added complication with a great increase in effect. The glass panes of this piece were slightly out of square so that they appeared to be leaning, and this in combination with the confusing illusions inherent in any of the vacuum-plated works was completely disorienting to the point of dizziness and the approach of nausea. At least that’s how I was affected. What interested me was that the effect seemed so out of proportion with the simplicity of the cause, which is generally true of all the aspects of the simpler work. The problem with these works is that they seem a bit close to the fun house.

––Bruce Boice