As part of the GCI's ongoing research into the conservation of modern and contemporary art, the Institute has been studying the novel materials and fabrication processes used by artists active in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s. To this end, GCI Assistant Scientist Rachel Rivenc visited the studio of Larry Bell in Taos, New Mexico, early in 2012 to interview him on the nature of his art and to solicit his thoughts on the conservation of his work. She was also given access to the wealth of photographs, drawings, and documents in his archives. While at his studio, Rivenc videotaped Bell as he prepared a number of glass panels to be used as replacement panels for an earlier work.
In the mid-1960s, Bell, fascinated by the interaction between light and reflective surfaces, came across an industrial process called vacuum deposition of thin films. In this process, selected metals are heated in a vacuum chamber until they vaporize in the presence of a selected substrate. The vaporized metals deposit as a micron-thin film on the surface of the substrate, making it reflective. The metallic coating essentially modifies the way light is absorbed, reflected, and transmitted by the substrates surface. Using this process on glass panels and playing with the type of metal used, the thickness of the film, and the introduction of gradients, Bell was able to create infinite variations in the color, transparency, and reflectivity of the glass. Bell used this process to create his signature glass cubes and large glass installations, as well as many works on paper.
The Bell footage and interview will be used to create a video demonstration of the artist at work, one of a series of videos planned over the next two years, each featuring a Los Angeles-based artist. The videos will be available through the GCI website and YouTube channel.
For more information on the GCI's research into modern and contemporary art, visit www.getty.edu/conservation.