By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
It's more than just marketing talk when Alex Gregory, curator of art for Amarillo Museum of Art, says the museum's latest exhibition must be seen in person.
Because the cliche that beauty is in the eye of the beholder may never be more true than for Side by Side: Larry Bell and Gabriel Dawe, opening Friday. In fact, no two people will view the artists' works in the same way, because unlike in traditional paintings or sculpture, there is no one, static way to view the works.
Bell sculpts with light, coating glass and other materials with thin metallic films, then letting them reflect the ambient light in a room. The sculpture, then, is more than just the Mylar ribbons hanging in the air — it's the play of the light on the wall and anything else in the gallery.
Take a look at this video for an example:
Bell said he'd prefer that his work speak for itself, but he explained the video thusly: "After watching the video one can get a sense of the movements of the Light Knots via simple air current changes," he said in an email. "What you are looking at was a piece or pieces of Mylar coated with thin films of aluminum and silicon monoxide. The silicon is responsible for the color changes. The shapes are controlled by the cuts and shapes of Mylar."
Dawe, meanwhile, came to Amarillo for more than a week to install his piece, a floor-to-ceiling work in AMoA's 30-foot-plus-high central atrium space. He and assistants stretched about 35 miles of individual, colored thread strands, "overlapping, intertwining, and providing a unique sensory experience and visual perception of light, space, form, and architecture," according to the museum.
You can see how the work came together in this time-lapse video recorded by Panhandle PBS:
Gregory said he was familiar with Bell's work first, then connected the artist with Dawe when the latter began his Plexus series of site-specific installations like the one on view here.
"The Side by Side (exhibitions) in general is able to compare and contrast (the artists) at different points in their careers," Gregory said.
Bell, 77, is a veteran artist and a pioneer of the Light and Space movement in Southern California. Dawe is a 43-year-old Mexico City native who now lives in Dallas.
"To be able to show my work with such an artist is very exciting," Dawe said. "We both work with the play of transparency and ethereality. ... I think it will be a very interesting juxtaposition."
Dawe — who said the AMoA installation is his tallest work yet, though he has done another piece that required 80 miles of thread — said he had a basic idea of the installation's ultimate shape, but he found surprises along the way.
"The work is full of subtle details that are not always the same, the inner geometry," Dawe said. "In this case, I knew there would be a diamond pattern in in the intersection ... but I didn't know the subtle details about how it dissipates."
Gregory emphasized the importance of seeing the works in person.
"You don't get it in a picture. Until you see it, you don't understand it," Gregory said. "Cameras don't interpret it the way your eyes do and your mind does and the way your mind fills in the blanks."
That because, in part, both artists use "the smallest of materials."
"Gabriel's is thread. You can hardly make out the color if its on its own," Gregory said. "Larry is using metal molecules that's attached to substrate or paper.
"Gabriel's installation can only be done in this space. There's not another space like it. Once you put Larry's pieces in this space and on this floor ... it's completely different if you take it outside (that space)," Gregory said. "It doesn't exist the same."
So yes, that means this exhibition is particularly ephemeral and transient.
"It exists in your memory, and that's about the only way," Gregory said. "It can exist in an image as a documentation of what it was, but until you experience it, walk around it, see it up close at different times of the day, you don't really get to experience it."
The exhibition will hang through Oct. 16 at the museum, 2200 S. Van Buren St. Admission is free. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
The artists are both scheduled to appear at a reception at 7 p.m. Aug. 19.
Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and at www.facebook.com/chipchandlerwriter on Facebook.