Larry Bell's art exploits the surface qualities and effects of glass: its capacity to be simultaneously clear and reflective, hard and insubstantial. After incorporating sections of glass into paintings on shaped canvases depicting the volume of a cube, Bell began to create literal, three-dimensional glass cubes in 1962–63. In his early cubes, Bell compromised visual access to the interior by scratching into the glass surface or using opaque materials such as Formica and mirrored glass to create elliptical patterns, bars, and checkerboards. Gradually, he worked toward a more reduced form, stripping away all surface ornamentation and employing a vacuum-coating process, through which metallic particles are made to adhere to the panes of glass, to subtly manipulate the level of transparency and opacity.
With their enclosed rectilinear shapes, the cubes bear a resemblance to Minimalist sculptures that were being made contemporaneously in New York. But like other Light-and-Space artists active in Los Angeles in the 1960s, Bell was interested less in literal, material objects than in the nature of our perception. At the same time that they carve out and define a given volume of space, works like 20" Untitled 1969 (Tom Messer Cube) (1969) become a continuum of their surrounding space, partly reflecting whatever happens to be in the environment while also permitting the viewer to see through them from every angle. By setting some of his cubes on clear Plexiglas pedestals, Bell further collapses their physical presence and produces a sense of weightlessness. The gray-tinged cube of this work seems more substantial than its invisible base and appears to hover in the air.