From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine's Gray Column

This exhibition, which ran from September 2011 to March 2012 as part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A., 1945-1980, focused on the materials and fabrication processes developed by De Wain Valentine for his large-scale sculptures and presented the complex conservation challenges associated with these works. The exhibition grew out of the GCI's technical studies of Los Angeles artists working with resins and plastics in the 1960s but was also a rare opportunity to focus on conservation dilemmas in contemporary art, and bring to the public's attention difficult conservation issues that are usually discussed behind-the-scene.

One of the largest polyester pieces De Wain Valentine made was Gray Column (1975-6), which measured over 12 feet in height and 8 feet in width, and weighed over 3500 pounds. Although polyester appears to be a relatively stable material, Valentine's sculptures are easily marked and scratched, and the resin itself continues to move after curing, and so the pristine surface of his work—which is so crucial to its function—is difficult to maintain. In fact, the usual procedure for conserving his work would be to re-sand and re-polish the surface prior to display, thereby regaining the work's original appearance, but at the expense of removing its surface, and as such, offers an excellent example of the common conflict faced by conservators between an artist's intent and the responsibility to preserve the integrity of the original materials.

The main sculpture was accompanied by preliminary sketches, drawings and maquettes, including a slab of polyester that visitors could touch to understand the effect of sanding and polishing, wall texts detailing the process as well as the conservation issues and short video clips.

The exhibition was re-staged at the Wright Exhibition Space in Seattle as part of a show entitled "9 from L.A." (September 2013–April 2014)

Page updated: July 2014