Los Angeles

DeWain Valentine

Los Angeles County Museum of Art and University of California, Irvine

In two concurrent shows, DeWain Valentine perpetuates old interests and ambitiously tackles other issues long associated with modernist painting. Using thin, long and precariously sharp sheets of glass which are joined together with semi-transparent silicone adhesive, Valentine has created a number of larger-than-life-size structures which approximate functional architectural elements. They include a series of free standing towers, a beam connecting two walls, an arch and a stunning double pyramid; they present a notable shift away from the solidity and density of the previous work in glass and cast resin. Yet evocative structure, border ing on spectacle, still dominates the artist’s intentions. One stands in awe of these forms primarily because of their unexpected material.

One might ask what’s wrong with spectacle. Simply, it is ultimately disappointing; it does not meet the expectations which it engenders. In the case of Valentine’s evocation of spectacle, the power of the forms or shapes is dubious; the illusiveness results from the complex interweaving of planes of glass. _

Double Pyramid, the most successful work shown, consists of stacked modular glass units extending from ground level to approximately 12 feet in height. The risky execution and scale of the work engages the spectator and invites contemplation. However, disappointment results from an inability to locate visually the spatial position of building units within this optically dazzling maze. This illusiveness is further enhanced because both the glass and the shadows it casts are of similar size and value, making it difficult to determine anything as being solid and tangible. Thus, from a frontal view of the work, the eye is diverted to peripheral shape. Here it becomes inappropriate to look at the work as architectural or functional. Valentine thus asserts order and stability and then denies it, leaving the spectator locked into a complex situation which at first appeared simple. The work’s real cutting edge thereby lies in the psychological reversal required when one confronts what seems to be a tangible form only to find that it isn’t.

In this sense, the artist has successfully translated the pictorial concern for figure-ground relationship into a three-dimensional equivalent. As demonstrated by aspects of gestural painting the simultaneous assertion of order and confusion is a well-tested device for generating heightened involvement. While there is little question that Valentine has ambitiously addressed a central and complex issue, his choice of structures often thwarts the unfolding of this deeper psychological drama.

Fred Hoffman