9 From L.A.
[Melissa Davis, in Seattle Times]
Yesterday Gail and I went to the latest show at the Wright Exhibition Space*, 9 from L.A., sponsored jointly by Virginia Wright, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Getty Conservation Institute. It will run into April. I highly recommend going.
*I have explained in previous posts on the Wright Exhibition Space—for instance, this one—that it “is a small gallery that mounts shows from time to time drawn largely, or entirely, from the Virginia and Bagley Wright Collection, the largest collection of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. I highly recommend going, whatever the show, because the art is superb, the mix of art is interesting, you often have the space to yourself or nearly to yourself, there’s an informative little printed guide, and there’s often a docent to introduce you to the show and chat with. The gallery is open Thursdays and Saturday, with free admission.”
The email to the mailing list announcing the show offered the following description:
Following the acclaimed Pacific Standard Time initiative that was held in venues across L.A. in 2011, Mrs. Wright has brought together works from her collection, SAM’s and loans that include important works by L.A. artists including Larry Bell, Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, John McCracken, Peter Alexander, De Wain Valentine and more. Wright was also inspired by a show organized by the Contemporary Arts Council at SAM called 10 from Los Angeles.
A highlight of 9 from L.A. is Gray Column (1975-76), a towering, polyester resin sculpture by Valentine. Gray Column was recently conserved and the first time it was on view to the public was in Pacific Standard Time.
SAM’s chief conservator, Nicholas Dorman, worked with Dr. Tom Learner of the GCI to bring Gray Column to Seattle, along with a display, developed by Dr. Learner, that describes how the sculpture was originally made and discusses some of the issues surrounding its conservation.
At twelve feet high and eight feet across, Gray Column is a spectacular embodiment of Valentine’s pioneering use of polyester resin for the creation of art– an innovation that would allow him to produce translucent shapes and forms at the scale he wanted. Thicker and opaque at the base, Gray Column gradually tapers to little more than an inch thick at its top almost disappearing into the ceiling.
Virginia Wright offers further background in a short note on the handout available when you enter the space.
When the Getty agreed to install De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column in our exhibition space, it seemed right to accompany it with works by other artists of his generation. I remembered a 1966 exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, commissioned by the Contempoary Art Council and organized by John Coplans, entitled “Ten from Los Angeles.” 47 years later, it still sounded like a good title for our current show, which includes many of the same artists featured in the 1966 exhibition.
See also Robert Ayers’ review in early November in the Seattle Times, from which the photo at the top is taken. He opens with his own description of the exhibition space.
Sixteen years after it first opened, the Wright Exhibition Space is still on the list of Seattle’s best-kept secrets. It is without doubt one of the city’s most beautiful places for looking at art, and you could not choose a better time to seek it out. The current exhibition is an excellent example of what the Wright Foundation does sublimely well.
Sitting pretty between the economic pressures of a commercial gallery and the civic or academic obligations of a museum, the foundation allows Virginia Wright to curate according to her very particular passions. The resulting exhibit delights and fascinates in equal measure.
We entered the space, picked up copies of the sheet listing the fourteen works in the show, and began to make our way around. Soon Sylvia, the docent, invited us to join her and another couple as she began her overview. She then took us to see each of the pieces, grouping them by artist and spending a lot of time on Valentine.
The featured work, Gray Column, is one of two matching columns that were commissioned by a company in Illinois for their new building. When the architect lowered the planned ceiling height, the columns were installed rotated ninety degrees, lying on their sides. This was back in the mid-’70s. Eventually the pieces came back to the artist, and then two years ago the Getty built a show around them, From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column.
Gray Column was one of the largest sculptures De Wain Valentine ever cast with polyester resin―the material with which he worked through the 1960s and 1970s to create his dazzling Circles and Columns. This monumental, free-standing slab, measuring 12 feet high and 8 feet wide, will be displayed to the public for the first time. The exhibition From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s “Gray Column” tells the story of how this extraordinary piece was made and features preparatory drawings and maquettes, videos documenting the fabrication process, interviews with the artist, and a discussion of the conservation of this sculpture.
One of the three spaces into which the Wright Exhibition Space is divided contains some of the material from this show, including a polyester resin cast divided into thirds. In the photo of it below that I took, you can perhaps make out that there are three different sections: the left third is unfinished, the middle is partly polished, and the right is fully polished, with viewers invited to touch.
Photos show Valentine and assistants at work, from casting to polishing. Sylvia mentioned that before the Wright show opened, Valentine’s wife was busy re-polishing the column. The resin changes over time, raising conservation questions about whether to re-polish or leave as is. Of course, with the artist still alive and in possession of the work, he is free to make that decision.
Here’s one of the photos in the exhibition, taken from the Getty website:
[Photo courtesy of De Wain Valentine]
And another from the Getty website:
Sylvia told us that Valentine’s Circle Blue, which is owned by Virginia Wright, sits in front of a window in her condo, looking out over Puget Sound. A third Valentine piece in the show, also owned by Wright, is only 6″ x 11″ and normally sits on a table at her home.
Oh, I just remembered that Sylvia showed us a NYT review of the Getty show, written in September 2011. It’s here, and it has a bigger photo of Gray Column:
[Konrad Fiedler for The New York Times]
You can get a sense of how it is reflective below, where it is thick, but translucent higher up.
Although De Wain Valentine’s work is at the exhibition’s heart, the other artists’ works are wonderful complements. The Valentine column and circle are balanced by a 12-foot-high Robert Irwin pillar that has a profile something like two wedges and an eight-foot rectangular solid of stainless steel by John McCracken. Another McCracken piece is below.
The different paint textures gave me a sense that I was looking through the triangle into the sky, as if looking out from within a James Turrell skyspace.
One last example, the one contemporary piece, a painting that is exactly the same size as McCracken’s:
You have until April 25th. And remember, they’re open only Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 am to 2 pm. Go if you can.