13 Feb Peter Schjeldahl
Take Larry Bell’s glass boxes: chrome-framed cubes, vacuum-coated with vaporized minerals (usually grayish, but gold in one instance). The transparent objects admit your gaze. The space inside them is a continuation of the space you occupy, simply inflected with misty tones. The works are echt minimalist in that they are understood almost before they are seen. Mystery-free, they leave you nothing to be conscious of except yourself, affected by their presence. But unlike, say, Judd’s sternly confrontational metal and wooden geometries, they don’t mind seducing. They are as obvious as furniture and as dreamy as whatever mood you’re in. Not only elegant, they precipitate a feeling of elegance: ease, suavity, cool. They look expensive, not just in their lapidary craft but by extension, assuming an ambience of taste in key with themselves. (You wouldn’t want a Bell box in a railroad apartment; it would be like living with an indignantly offended aristocrat.) In the sixties, puritanical New Yorkers (me included) liked to deplore the air of lotus-eating chic that Bell shared with other California minimalists. Today, after what seems an eternity of having been pummeled by the big-ticket swank of stainless-steel bunnies by Jeff Koons and tanked sharks by Damien Hirst, I find Bell’s slickness generously candid – and the pseudo-Shaker austerity of Judd, for all his greatness, correspondingly coy. There’s no crime in art’s looking like a luxury. It is a luxury. Meanwhile, the intellectual integrity of the cubes, merging Euclid and reverie, proves rock solid.