De Wain Valentine was in junior high after World War II, a fact that would mean little for the world at large except for an odd little domino of events: post-war, the defense industries were forced to scale back by lack of demand. A defense contractor in Fort Collins, Colorado, found itself with a surplus of the material they used to make patrol torpedo boats, and so they decided to donate some of that surplus to a local school. Valentine’s school.
The material was polyester resin. It’s ubiquitous today, used in everything from printer toner to easy-clean restaurant tables and of course, those clear Lucite trophies. But it was a great new toy for a budding artist in the early 1950s.
Over the course of the next two decades, Valentine created his “Columns” and “Circles” series. Monument-like pieces of polished transparent resin. In 1966, he patented a slower-drying resin so he could work on bigger and bigger scales, allowing him to cast pieces such as Gray Columns, two free-standing wall-like tapered monoliths, each twelve feet high and half as wide, though only inches thick.
Gray Columns, which was commissioned for an office board room in 1975, will be on display along with much of Valentine’s lifetime body of work at David Zwirner gallery in New York. For the first time, that large gray sculpture will be properly displayed as it was intended, with both walls standing upright and edge-by-edge. Valentine himself has brought many works out of storage for the show and re-polished their surfaces back to gleaming perfection, emphasizing his original explorations in transparency, reflection, and refraction.
De Wain Valentine’s works will be on display at David Zwirner, 525 West 19th Street, New York, through August 7th. Other pieces of his work are permanent parts of the collections at MoMa, the Getty, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.