This revival of L.A. artist De Wain Valentine seems to have run into a problem: It’s proven so popular with visitors, the gallery had to hire docents to keep them from touching the work.
It’s easy to see why. These works from the ’60s and ’70s are crazy attractive—cast from resins of varying tints, transparencies and translucencies into wedges, cut gemstones, and in some cases, lozenges resembling cough drops or Life Savers. Ranging from small to monumental, they’re literally eye candy.
Valentine was part of a SoCal milieu of artists whose works were given the sometimes interchangeable labels of California Light and Space art and Finish Fetish. They shared a similar Sunshine State spin on Minimalism, one inspired by, yes, the interplay of light and space found in the City of Angels: A place that is, after all, in a desert by an ocean where the surroundings appear to melt into a shimmering nexus of land, sea and sky.
But these artists were also inspired by the local car culture and aerospace industry, especially sculptors such as Larry Bell, Craig Kauffman and John McCracken. Like Valentine, they created geometrically abstract objects out of plastic, or painted with glossy auto-body lacquer, or both. Rather than stand opaquely before the viewer, works by this group reflected light in a way that made their presence seem provisional, depending on where you stood.That’s certainly the case with the sculptures here.
They show is also infused with a pronounced sci-fi vibe. One room is dominated by a four-sided array of upright colored disks, measuring nearly six feet in diameter. It’s easy to imagine Kirk and Spock, leading an away team from the Enterprise, beaming into their midst and puzzling over them like they were artifacts from a lost alien civilization. Similarly, a pair of tapering slabs, separated a few inches apart and soaring to more than 11 feet, recalls the enigmatic monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A number of the works are occluded by odd textural effects buried deep in the material. In one disk, washy tendrils cascade beneath the surface like rivulets left in the sand by an outgoing tide.
This pervading quality of evanescence means that even the largest piece here is light on its feet, rippling with a sheen that is cool, calming and conducive to meditative reverie. As environmental works, their impact is the exact opposite of something like Richard Serra’s arroyos of steel, which swallow gallery-goers whole.
Are Valentine’s works a little too sweet? Perhaps, but that depends on your willingness to surrender to their sublimity. It appears a lot of people already have.—Howard Halle