Wednesday, July 24, 2013

De Wain Valentine's 'Gray Column'

The documentary From Start to Finish: The Story of De Wain Valentine's 'Gray Column' is excellent (I was able to see the film in its entirety a week ago; below are several links to excerpts). Directed and produced by Commonwealth Projects for the Getty Conservation Institute as part of the marvelous Pacific Standard Time Initiative, the film traces the creation of the extraordinary sculpture Gray Column (1975-76), from its original conception and fabrication, through its conservation, to its installation and first-time display (from September 13, 2011, to March 11, 2012), at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Valentine and his studio assistants, as well as curators and conservators, scientists, and collectors help tell the story.

De Wain Valentine, Gray Column, 1975-76
Polyester Resin
140" x 87-1/2" x 9-1/2"
Lent by De Wain Valentine to J. Paul Getty Museum
Artwork © De Wain Valentine

The free-standing Gray Column is notable for its size — 12 feet high and 8 feet wide — and for the unconventional material — a polyester resin — from which it was cast. The resin was tinted with black pigment, accounting for the sculpture's color, which is not uniform (because the material's properties changed the higher the form went during casting).

Associated with the "Light and Space" movement in Southern California in the 1960s, De Wain Valentine (b. 1936) was a pioneer in the use of industrial plastics and resin and, with the help of chemical engineer Ed Revay, developed Valentine MasKast resin, which he experimented with and refined until he could cast his monumental works in a single pour. Works made of the unique material, which is volatile and thus dangerous during pours, both reflect and blur or otherwise distort the light and space that surround them; their surfaces are incredibly delicate and pristine. Gray Column, it's estimated, consists of approximately 3,500 pounds of the plastic. (See the short video "Polyester Resin" about the material.) Conserving the artwork to achieve its original qualities presented a number of challenges of no little concern and discussion, as is noted in the film. (The short video Surface Matters recounts the purpose of and measures required to maintain the sculpture's "like new" surface.)

Image Credit: De Wain Valentine in His Los Angeles Studio, 2011, Jesse Fleming © Getty Conservation Institute

Go here to see a short about the Los Angeles art scene of the 1960s and 1970s. (This video, as are the others noted above, is excerpted from the documentary.)

A hard-cover exhibition catalogue, From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine's Gray Column (Getty Conservation Institute, 2011), published and offered in conjunction with the documentary and the sculpture's exhibition is available through The Getty Store. In addition to an essay, interview with the artist, and archival images, the publication includes a DVD copy of the film.

(My thanks to the National Gallery of Art, from which I learned of the film. Last week, the NGA sponsored "The Voice of  the Artist: De Wain Valentine", an afternoon program in which the artist talked about the making of Gray Column with Tom Learner*, who heads modern and contemporary art research at the Getty Conservation Institute. The program included a showing of the documentary.)

You'll find online a wealth of material, including information about artistic styles, materials, and processes, on the PST Initiative. A region-wide collaboration spearheaded by the Getty, it involved more than five dozen cultural institutions throughout Southern California in a series of exhibitions, presented from October 2011 to April 2012, to celebrate the artists and the works they created in Los Angeles in the period 1945-1980. A second major initiative is planned for 2017; that effort will examine in depth the artistic connections between Los Angeles and Latin America.

De Wain Valentine Resume

De Wain Valentine Profiles at UC-Boulder (Department of Art & Art History),  Los Angeles Modern AuctionsThe New York Times

* Learner discussed the conservation effort in the Guardian article "De Wain Valentine's Gray Column Restored for Modern Art Show" (October 8, 2011).

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