De Wain Valentine's first New York survey in 30 years opens at David Zwirner

De Wain Valentine are on show at David Zwirner gallery in New York
The otherworldly yet organic works of De Wain Valentine are on show at David Zwirner gallery in New York.Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 
(Image credit: De Wain)

'I just want to say one word to you. Just one word… plastics.' Nearly 50 years later, the 'great future in plastics' promised to a rudderless Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate is finally here, in the form of De Wain Valentine's otherworldly yet organic works in polyester resin, on view until 7 August at David Zwirner (opens in new tab) gallery in New York.

'This is all about pieces of the sky and pieces of the ocean,' says Valentine, 78, surveying the exhibition of luminous, meticulously polished forms he cast in the 1960s and 1970s, after arriving in Los Angeles from his native Colorado, where schoolkids and their shop (industrial arts) teachers got the synthetic spoils of polymers developed for military use. 'Polyester resin allowed me to objectify the atmosphere – put it out in solid form, look at it, and say "This is what this is".'

The show's 21 works, spread across four rooms and the hallway that connects Zwirner's high-ceilinged, expansive white spaces on West 19th Street, include 'double pyramids' that resemble huge, cloudy gemstones and chunky, beveled rings that look popped from the tops of giant bottles (especially the one in beach-glassy blueish grey), but Valentine's atmospheric inspiration is most apparent – and affecting – in his circles. Balanced jauntily on their slender, convex edges, these translucent discs are monumental punch samplings of water and sky, alive with traces of sand, sun, and hazy LA smog.

For many years, Valentine kept a second studio in Hawaii, and Circle Blue Smoke Flow, 1970, a sheer cyan disc crowned by an earthy smudge, preserves in resin a fragment of Waialea Bay. 'You look straight down at that crystal blue water, at the white sand on the bottom, and see the dappling of sand,' explains Valentine. 'I was able to recreate a piece of that and stand it on the edge.'

The artist's eye for proportion comes into view with his columns: extruded prisms that grow from the circles. These slender sculptures stretch upward in dialogue with the human form and, in the smoky greys Valentine favoured in the mid-1970s, call attention to their sleek surfaces, polished to a high gleam through a sequence of sandpaper grits that can remove thousands of pounds worth of resin. 'You never really see them until the last polish,' he notes.

'De Wain ended up in California at a moment when many artists were looking at alternative ways of making sculpture and installations, and his expertise innovated not only within contemporary art but touched many artistic careers around him,' says Kristine Bell, who organised the exhibition, the first New York survey of Valentine's work in 30 years. 'It's a story that needs to be retold here – and it’s long overdue.'

the polyester resin pieces

The exhibition features the polyester resin pieces Valentine cast in the 1960s and 1970s, after arriving in Los Angeles from his native Colorado. Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

(Image credit: De Wain )

Polyester resin allowed me to objectify the atmosphere

'Polyester resin allowed me to objectify the atmosphere – put it out in solid form, look at it, and say "This is what this is"'. Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

(Image credit: De Wain)

double pyramid

Valentine's 'double pyramid' piece resembles huge, cloudy gemstones. Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

(Image credit: De Wain)

traces of sand, sun, and hazy LA smog

Valentine's atmospheric inspiration is most apparent in his circles. Balanced jauntily on their slender, convex edges, these translucent discs are monumental punch samplings of water and sky, alive with traces of sand, sun, and hazy LA smog. Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

(Image credit: TBC)

Circle Blue Smoke Flow

Circle Blue Smoke Flow, 1970 – pictured to the rear – is a sheer cyan disc crowned by an earthy smudge, preserving in resin a fragment of Waialea Bay in Hawaii. Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

(Image credit: De Wain)

These slender sculptures stretch

The artist's eye for proportion comes into view with his columns: extruded prisms that grow from the circles. These slender sculptures stretch upward in dialogue with the human form. Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

(Image credit: De Wain)

exhibition organiser

'It's a story that needs to be retold here – and it's long overdue,' says exhibition organiser Kristine Bell. Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

(Image credit: De Wain)

The exhibition will be on show

The exhibition will be on show at Zwirner's West 19th Street space until 7 August. Valentine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 

(Image credit: De Wain)

ADDRESS

David Zwirner
519, 525 & 533 West 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

VIEW GOOGLE MAPS