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The Art of JAMA
July 5, 2016

Frog PondLarry Bell

JAMA. 2016;316(1):16-17. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.14356

In terms of contemporary American art, the coasts have historically been compared in terms of aesthetic and attitude. East Coast art was often considered passionate but inscrutable, and its postwar artists were subject to a rigorous regime of intellectual criticism. The dark chaotic canvases of the Abstract Expressionists can be viewed as the prime example. West Coast artists’ work has been characterized as aloof, cool, and sleek, in some ways too removed from the orbit of New York City to be subject to robust interpretation. Often the reception of each was viewed as a product of its environment. East-coasters contended with crowded but modern cityscapes that culled their energy from a pastiche of commerce and culture. In the West, artists confronted the vast open landscapes filled with light and sky, vistas with no clear end or beginning. The amalgam of West Coast traits was described by critic David Hickey: “… everything that divides anything from anything else seems to exist on the verge of dissolution or liquefaction. The object and its atmosphere, the mind and the body, the self and the other all flutter, fade, and intermingle at the edges. All surfaces seduce themselves.” Hickey’s description fits the work of Larry Bell (1939-   ), a West Coast artist whose signature was manipulating surfaces so that they interplay with light, atmosphere, and perception in unique ways.

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