Light and Space Group

Related to Op Art, Minimalism, and Geometric Abstraction, it originated in Southern California in the 1960s.

Related to Op Art, minimalism and geometric abstraction, it originated in southern California in the 1960s. It is characterized by focusing on the phenomena of perception in relation to light, volume and scale, and by the use of materials such as glass, neon, fluorescent lights or acrylic resin, often forming installations. Whether directing the flow of natural light, its artificial incorporation, or playing with it through the use of transparent, translucent or reflective materials, these artists make the viewer’s experience of the sensory phenomena of light the focus of their work. .

They incorporate into their works the latest technologies from the industries based in southern California to develop their sensual and luminous objects. The nature of the works of these artists was first brought into play in the title of the exhibition held at UCLA in 1971, which showed the artists of this emerging movement, “Transparency, reflection, light, space” , all of them key elements of his works. The Helga de Alvear Collection features the work of the most representative artists of this movement.

James Turrell (Los Angeles, 1943)

Among the most prominent is James Turrell. His training in psychology and mathematics at Pomona College, Claremont, completed with studies in fine arts, and his participation in the research program on perceptual phenomena with Robert Irwin and Edward Wortz (1968), at LACMA, have been decisive for the development of his work. Coinciding with the investigations of the “Light and Space Group”, his light pieces, inaugurated in 1966, adopt simplicity as a maxim and light as a material that amplifies and shapes perception, surprising and disorienting sensory experience and altering space. in a destabilizing and at the same time hypnotic experience, which aims to induce an awareness of perception, see oneself seeing, and communicate feelings of transcendence.

John McCracken (Berkeley, 1934 – New York, 2011)

Another of the most outstanding artists of the “Light and Space Group” is John McCracken. Before finishing his painting studies (1957-1965), McCracken began to investigate the relationship between painting and sculpture, and from 1966 he creates his distinctive sculptural forms. He simple, monochrome geometries, made with industrial materials, plywood or metal, and worked to become reflective surfaces of their environment that he defined as “Plancks”. Halfway between painting and object, his works are related to Minimalism, Finish Fetish and Conceptual Art, but also to prehistoric structures and science fiction. Places of dialogue between abstraction, beauty, material and dematerialization, his works proclaim a brilliant object nature, but, paradoxically, with their timeless and strange traits, they become silent presences that affirm a transcendent and metaphysical dimension.

Did you know…?

It is suggested that Stanley Kubrick and his monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey” released in 1968 could have been inspired by John McCracken’s “Plancks” that he had been making for three years before.


The recent appearance of several metal monoliths is also attributed to this artist, who, although he died in 2011, is believed to have planned these posthumous interventions.

Robert Irwin (Long Beach, California, 1928)

A pioneer in the use of light and light effects in his works, he was the teacher of James Turrell, Ed Ruscha or Chris Burden, being a professor at the University of California in Los Angeles for many years. Starting with abstract expressionist painting in the 1950s, in the second half of the 1960s he began to explore the perceptive qualities of light in works based on curved aluminum discs. In the seventies he definitively embarked on what would be his aesthetic research, based on the intervention of exhibition spaces to alter the visual and phenomenological experience of the spectators using the nature of light as the main element. Called “Light and space”, he uses veils, fabrics and fluorescent lights with which he investigates perceptual problems in relation to what is transparent or translucent, and the changes that light produces in space. He has also made numerous “site-specific” works such as “1º 2º 3º 4º” (1997) at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art or “Untitled” (2016) at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.

Larry Bell (Chicago, 1939)

And one last protagonist of the “Light and Space Group” in the Helga de Alvear Collection is Larry Bell, of whom you can see one of his works currently in the museum’s permanent exhibition.

Although he was born in Chicago, shortly after his family moved to Los Angeles. There he attended the Chouinard Art Institute from 1957 to 1959, where he began a pictorial stage linked to the stylistic parameters of abstract expressionism, which he abandoned at the beginning of the sixties, to make paintings where he created the illusion of three-dimensional geometric shapes on flat surfaces, based on projections. isometric cubic shapes.


Larry Bell, Untitled, 1962. Mirrored glass and acrylic on canvas

To these first geometric paintings Bell begins to introduce mirrored and transparent glass that allows him to play with transparency, opacity and the reflection of the light it causes. Starting in 1962, his work became three-dimensional through small boxes made up of wood and glass frames, which he called Shadow Boxes, where he created geometric shapes trapped between glass. But it will be in 1963 when he begins to develop his first versions of glass cubes on transparent methacrylate bases, in which, through wooden or chromed metal moldings that are becoming lighter and lighter, he develops designs of ellipses, bands and checkered, playing with the opaque and transparent elements of its surface.



Untitled, 1964. Iron and tinted glass. Tate Collection, Londres



Untitled, 1965-1966. Glass and chromed steel


Larry Bell

Larry Bell photographed next to his first vacuum chamber and some of his glass cubes, New York, 1966

He abandoned these designs around 1965 to go a step further in the formal refinement of his cubes, which definitively focus on the qualities of the glass treated by deposition of metallic particles by gaseous dispersion in vacuum on the glass, producing subtle tonal gradations and games with the levels of transparency and opacity, the reflection and absorption of light on its surface. With these works he made his individual exhibition at the Pace Gallery in New York in 1965. Due to the success obtained, he decides to spend a season in New York and that is when he invests the profits from the sale of his works in a vacuum glass coating chamber. that allowed him to make the crystals himself.

The cubes begin to be defined solely by glass panels without a chrome structure joined to each other with a bevel, which achieves a greater dematerialization of the work and the possibility of influencing more on the lighting qualities of this material. Once back at his studio in Venice Beach (Los Angeles) in 1969 he purchased a larger vacuum chamber in order to increase the scale of his pieces. The need to be able to make larger glass panels responds to the desire, according to his words, that his works would not only work in his frontal vision, but also in his peripheral vision, which, in turn, led to the breaking of the cube towards the development of panels distributed in space, where people could move and see between and through them. Which culminated in his work “The Iceberg and It’s Shadow”, made in 1974, made up of more than fifty panels adjustable to the exhibition space.


Larry Bell, The Iceberg and it’s Shadow, 1974. Inconel and silicon monoxide coated glass panels

Did you know…?

Larry Bell appears on the cover of the iconic Beatles album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967), taken from a detail of a photograph taken of him by his friend Dennis Hopper in 1964. He is one of the few current survivors of the characters shown on the cover.


In the museum library:

James Turrell

Robert Irwin


Digital resources on James Turrell

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum


Fundación NMAC, Vejer de la Frontera

Official Web


Digital resources on John McCracken:

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

LACMA Museum



Digital resources on Robert Irwin:


The Chinati Foundation


Whitney Museum of American Art

LACMA, 2016


Digital resources on Larry Bell:

Tate, London

Anthony Meier Fine Arts

LACMA, 2019