Behind the Scenes, J. Paul Getty Museum

In Studio: Larry Bell

Larry Bell in his studio, January 22, 2012

Artist Larry Bell creates sculptures that play with optical effects, light, and perception. He opened his studio and shared creative insights into his creative process last January 22 as part of “In Studio,” a program we in the Museum’s Education Department organized featuring six artists whose work was included in the exhibition Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents. The following questions grew out of that visit.

How are you different as an artist now than you were in the ‘60s and ‘70s?

I’m a lot older, is the main difference!

Your 2002 work Time Machine [pictured below] is enthralling. Two participants sit facing each other, separated by a large piece of coated glass. When both people adjust to the right location, their faces are transposed. How does the experience that this sculpture fosters relate to your larger body of work?

It’s an interesting tool to improvise an installation with. It controls the viewer’s attention.

Course participants explore Larry Bell's sculpture Time Machine, January 22, 2012

Course participants explore Larry Bell's sculpture Time Machine in the artist's studio, January 22, 2012

During our studio visit, you said that when you’re making art, how you’re feeling takes precedence over the visual composition. What do you hope the viewer feels in the presence of your work?
I try to make things I have not seen before, and I would hope viewers respond accordingly, but I have no control of that.

What’s a question you never get asked, but wish you would?

“Why do you do this?” The answer is that I’m addicted to doing it. I do not know how to do anything else.

Larry Bell discusses his work with course participants

Larry Bell discusses his work with course participants

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      This milky pink boomed into popularity because of a marketing ploy, a mistress, and its ambiguous origins.

      In an effort to compete with the renowned Meissen porcelain factory, the French Sèvres manufactory recruited the glamorous Madame de Pompadour (mistress to King Louis XV). Like a smart sponsorship deal, Sèvres gave her all the porcelain she requested. 

      Introduced in 1757, this rich pink exploded on the scene thanks to favoritism by Madame Pompadour herself. 

      The glaze itself had a weird history. To the Europeans it looked Chinese, and to the Chinese it was European. It was made based on a secret 17th-century glassmaker’s technique, involving mixing glass with flecks of gold.

      For more on colors and their often surprising histories, check out The Brilliant History of Color in Art.


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