Larry Bell: an Homage to the Square that “breathes”

I often hear my associations of ideas are off-beat or décalé (or off-the-wall, depending on how polite you are :-).

So let me throw you at the cross between yoga, running and art and see what you think! To me, breathing is at this intersection on my grid – often underestimated, so underrated yet ESSENTIAL!

I practice yoga 3 times a week, no matter what. I am also half way through my marathon training program. So let’s just say I have learnt to pay attention to breathing because my life (an your life) depends on it 🙂

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Bruno Romeda, Quadrato, Vevey, Switzerland

There is a meditative quality to breathing that helps me get through the discomfort of a crescent lunge on my weaker side or the pain that usually comes without a fail after running 17 miles.

I made breathing a life tool and a habit but like most things, I refused to make it bland. My wonderful yoga teacher Karoll B. uses the visualisation of a ball of color that I can match with my mood or my needs of the day. It works wonders and allows me to power through most days!

So much so that I found myself thinking of my yoga practice, breathing and Josef Albers’ colors as I discovered Larry Bell’s installation Pacific Red II at the Whitney Biennial recently.

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Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017, Whitney Museum, NYC. Photo via Whitney Museum website

Larry Bell installed 6 cubes of different saturation red laminated glass on the 5th floor terrace of the Whitney Museum. Inside each cube is a smaller cube of a deeper shade of red – like a matrioshka Russian doll.

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Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017, Whitney Museum, New York. Photo © 2017 Ingrid Westlake
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Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017, Whitney Museum, New York. Photo © 2017 Ingrid Westlake

As I walked around the installation, the colors kept on changing, pulsating up and down, breathing in and out. To me, Larry Bell’s installation is a 3D homage to Josef Albers’ own 1000-strong Homage to the Square series. It’s an homage to colors, what we think we know of them as facts and our actual perception of them – two very different phenomena as our eyes constantly adjust to contingent colors.

It’s about not allowing colors to be taken for granted – like breathing usually is.

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Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017, Whitney Museum, New York. Photo © 2017 Ingrid Westlake
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Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017, Whitney Museum, New York. Photo © 2017 Ingrid Westlake

Josef Albers is not nearly as well-known and recognized as Paul Klee despite the fact they used to teach alongside at the Bauhaus until the school was closed by the Nazis in 1933. Klee was the recognised master; Josef Albers was much younger yet his stained glass expertise gave him a unique perspective on color and light. Like Louis Comfort Tiffany before him, colored glass was his way to paint with light itself, exploring the dimensions a flat canvas could provide.

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Josef Albers, Bent Dark Gray, 1943 at left and Concealing, 1940 at right, Guggenheim Museum, NYC.

Josef Albers said “painting is color acting” because colors are alive and keep changing, if you pay attention. His self-proclaimed goal was to “open eyes¹” to the interaction and modification of colors as they are locally applied next to each other. Amen to that because it might just mean you take the time to breathe in the process.

From 1950 until his death in 1976, each Homage to the Square reiterated the same process of nesting three or four squares and demonstrated how colors can be made to glow, protrude when more saturated, subside when less saturated, recessing or even buzzing at the exact intersection between two shades.

For more examples of Albers’ work , follow the link to see Homage to the Square in shades of yellow, black and grey at the Pasadena Norton Simon Museum.

Josef Albers made space expand towards the viewer or contract within the center of the canvas, showing colors’ elasticity², actual movement and acting power.

Despite the rigid and formal approach of his architectural squares, Josef Albers delivered what I would call an illusion of breathing on paper, a play with dimensions that Rothko took to a monumental (almost religious) harmony with his Color Fields paintings.

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Mark Rothko, Black on Dark Sienna on Purple, 1960, MOCA. Photo Credit: Joleen G.

Following this tradition with Pacific Red II, Larry Bell not only pays homage to the Square but pays homage to Josef Albers’ first trade as stained glass maker, incorporating light and change in the air to his work.

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Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017, Whitney Museum, New York. Photo © 2017 Ingrid Westlake
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Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017, Whitney Museum, New York. Photo © 2017 Ingrid Westlake

Seeing the reflection of each square recreating an Albers-like composition on the terrace floor showed me that Larry bell’s preoccupation is to make his installation breathe and expand outside its own physical limits.

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Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017, Whitney Museum, New York. Photo © 2017 Ingrid Westlake

Using such light reflection as an extension, Larry Bell’s artistic exhale carries you that much further.

It’s the same with yoga, it’s the same with running. Namaste.

This post is gratefully dedicated to Karoll B.

Larry Bell, Pacific Red II, 2017 is part of the Whitney Biennial 2017 and will be on view until June 11, 2017.

¹ www.nytimes.com/2012/07/27/arts/design/josef-albers-in-america-painting-on-paper-at-the-morgan.html

² Presentation by Anoka Faruqee at Yale, www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YpZX0Xj9-Y

© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.

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9 thoughts on “Larry Bell: an Homage to the Square that “breathes”

  1. With every breathe you exchange a moment and a feeling which is absorbed while your experiencing a moment through sports or art

    I know, I have been doing this for years

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly Brenda! It’s like a multiplier effect. Let’s meet around Mission Bay soon 🏃🏻‍♀️🏃‍♀️

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  2. We are close enough for the essential, for me who is swimming, aquagym and cycling, it is important to know how to properly manage my breath !!! After the swimming sessions I do a few minutes of relaxation in the pool to allow my heart to not stress !! My teacher asks me to think of a color and let this color invade me !!
    You are right the meditative quality to breathing helps us to surpass when the pain becomes violent !! A “échappatoire par la pensée” ???

    I love Larry Bell’s red squares! Transparency and luminosity leave free interpretation and breathing while the paintings of Josef Albers give me less the idea of escape.
    Yes, certainly, Larry Bell gave life to the work of Josef Albers by creating his squares in 3D!

    What a beautiful Ingrid search !! You are a perfectionist ….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My yoga teacher uses the visualization of a ball of light, any color that I like on the day, that I can then let expand towards the inner edges of my body…definitely works wonder so keep letting your colors invade you 😍 L’échappatoire par la pensée is a powerful tool indeed! You can climb mountains with it, the key is just in trying instead of resisting and being so scared you don’t end up doing anything. Josef Albers’ work can take some time to get into but there is a wonderful iPad app developed by Yale University which is an amazing tool to play with colors and our perception of them. Thank you for reading always. Sayonara!

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  3. Dear Ingrid , in the Larry Bell one , you wrote about breathing, and About Yoga among other things.
    I identified myself with you.
    I do practice Yoga. Three times a week. I feel I’m addicted to it.
    Once I started practicing it I realized I can’t stop doing it.

    And about Bell’s work …
    Those amazing huge squares .. oh my G. .. they are incredibly beautiful !

    I want to read all that I have not read, still missing some blogs.

    I wanted to let you know that I do encourage you to keep writing.

    You do it very well my dear !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear Becky! I am so glad my blog and writing resonate with you, your yoga practice and your appreciation of art! Yoga is certainly a way of life 😉 I thought about it this morning during my practice actually…it’s all about the opening at many different levels, physical, behavioral, artistic etc…and the road will be paved with many discoveries along the way!

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