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Stealing the Sky: The Sculpture of De Wain Valentine

07.22.15 | By
Stealing the Sky: The Sculpture of De Wain Valentine
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There are two things you need to do today: Trip out in front of the entrancing sculpture by De Wain Valentine at David Zwirner Gallery, and watch a short documentary that details the INSANE process of making these sculptures.  Photographs and viewing tips are below.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

First, at David Zwirner Gallery in New York, nearly 30 sculptures by the legendary De Wain Valentine are all older than me but look as fresh as this morning. I chalk their timelessness up to their subject: Valentine didn’t just want to depict the sky, he wanted to create an object that felt as if a piece of the atmosphere itself had been removed and brought to earth.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

These are bigger than they look. Most of the circles are human height, at about 5’10” tall. In a couple sculptures, the vertical color gradation is caused by two different pigments, but in the majority of the works, that shift if due ONLY to the slight narrowing of thickness which causes greater transparency as they reach up to meat the air itself. It’s an effect that is even more surprising and hypnotic in person.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

The material is “cast polyester resin” which is first poured into a mold in liquid form, hardened, and then polished to an INSANE degree. For example, “Double Column Gray” (pictured below) is the largest piece in the gallery at over 11 feet tall. It required 10 massive drums of liquid resin (55 gallons each) and took 20 uninterrupted hours to pour into a mold. If the work survives the curing period, the most intense “finishing” process in art history begins. Every level of sandpaper grit imaginable is used BY HAND to refine and polish the surface by the slightest degrees until pure perfection is achieved. To give an idea of how much sanding: each “Gray Column” originally weighed 5,000 pounds, but during the polishing process, approximately 1,500 pounds of material was REMOVED to finish at a still-incredible 3,500 pounds each.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Installation view, De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s, David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 2015.

Double Column Gray, 1975-1976

Double Column Gray, 1975-1976

Check out the video below. If you are short on time, skip to the 12:30 mark to see the nail-biting process and hear from the people who were there. Then watch the full 29 minutes to learn about the inspiration, fascinating chemistry, and what happens if one of these gets a scratch!!!

Finally, the David Zwirner Gallery supplied me with a couple photos from the 1970s of the same work, perhaps to prove that these actually ARE over 40 years old. I love the second photo which shows the artists with “Double Gray Column” in an early sanding stage. Note an unsanded “circle” peaking out on the left.

Installation view: De Wain Valentine: Recent Sculpture, Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, CA, 1970

Installation view: De Wain Valentine: Recent Sculpture, Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, CA, 1970

De Wain Valentine polishing Gray Column, 1975–76, in his studio.

De Wain Valentine polishing Gray Column, 1975–76, in his studio.

What: De Wain Valentine: Works from the 1960s and 1970s
Where: David Zwirner Gallery, 525 & 533 W 19th St, NYC
When: June 25 – August 7, 2015  (Summer Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-6pm)

All images © De Wain Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2015; courtesy of David Zwirner, New York/London

David Behringer visits over 200 galleries every month to uncover and share the most exciting contemporary art in New York today. Subscribe to his exclusive weekly newsletter at www.thetwopercent.com and learn about his private gallery tours. And be sure to check out his YouTube.