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De Wain Valentine’s monumental Grey Columns to be shown side by side—at last

The 1970s twin sculptures have never been installed as the Californian artist intended

Valentine polishing Grey Column in his studio in Venice, California, in 1976

Two sculptures from the 1970s by the Minimalist artist De Wain Valentine are to be shown together for the first time in an exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York (26 June-7 August). “This will be the first time that I will see the breadth of these works in one location,” Valentine says.

When he created Gray Column, 1975-76, for the Baxter Travenol Laboratories in Illinois, Valentine intended the twin works to stand side by side as 12ft-high vertical columns. During the construction of the firm’s corporate headquarters, however, the architects decided to build the laboratory’s ceilings at a lower height than originally intended, so the artist installed the slabs on their sides, renaming them Two Gray Walls.

Valentine had never seen either of the sculptures installed vertically until 2011, when the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles mounted the first ever public display of Gray Column after one of the works was restored by the Getty Conservation Institute. The exhibition, “From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column”, was part of the regional initiative “Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA, 1945-80” (PST), in which more than 60 cultural organisations collaborated to explore post-war art made in California.

PST led to a dramatic swing in the critical reception of Valentine’s work. Overlooked for decades, he was repositioned by the exhibition as a pioneer in the use of industrial materials. The show acted as a reminder that Valentine had been a key part of California’s Modernist “Finish Fetish” group; its artists created works with pristine surfaces and were heavily influenced by the car and surf culture of Southern California. Valentine is one of only a few artists to have invented their own medium: he engineered a modified polyester resin, “Valentine MasKast”, to create monumental works in a single pour in translucent shapes and forms. Each Gray Column sculpture is free-standing, weighs around 3,500lbs and was cast from ten barrels of polyester in a pouring process that took up to 18 hours.

In the same year as the Getty’s show, Valentine’s work featured on the front page of the New York Times and was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His market also received a major boost. Before PST, the record price paid at auction for a work by Valentine was $5,100 (est $3,000-$5,000) for Ring, Dark Mauve, 1972, a small cast pol- yester resin sculpture that sold at Los Angeles Modern Auctions in 2006. On 1 March, a new record was set for Blue Slab, 1970, which more than tripled its high estimate to sell $175,000 (est. $30,000-$50,000) at Los Angeles Modern Auctions. This result more than doubled the previous record, which was set in 2012, for Curved Waterwall, 1990, an 80in-tall laminated glass piece that sold at Los Angeles Modern Auctions for $81,250 (est $50,000- $100,000).

Renewed attention

The forthcoming show marks another major moment in the reappraisal of Valentine’s work. It will take place across Zwirner’s two spaces on West 19th Street in New York, and will focus on polyester resin works from the 1960s and 1970s, including Column Lavender, 1968, Circle Blue, 1970-75, and Column Blue, 1972-74. Works will be for sale, although the gallery declined to comment on prices. A spokeswoman says that the gallery does not represent the artist but is “involved with him and in the market of his works from the 1960s and 1970s”.

Although Valentine’s critical and commercial reception has varied, his focus remains unchanged. Born in Colorado in 1936, he moved to Los Angeles in 1965, attracted by the work of artists such as Larry Bell and Ken Price, and influenced by the Southern California landscape. Fifty years on, he remains “in pursuit of methods to objectify the magic, three-dimensional, coloured transparency of the sky and sea”, he says.

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