Gray Column, 1975–76, De Wain Valentine. Polyester resin. 140 x 87 1/2 x 9 1/2 in. Lent by De Wain Valentine. Artwork © De Wain Valentine
It looks like one of the alien monoliths from "2001: A Space Odyssey." It's a 12' x 8', almost 2-ton, polyester resin sculpture made by De Wain Valentine in the 1970s. It encapsulates what "Pacific Standard Time" is all about: it's a groundbreaking piece, made here, and is a bear to take care of.
The Getty Conservation Institute’s Tom Learner says that Valentine’s piece was created in the mid-70s – after Valentine formulated his own brand of polyester resin.
“What’s special about De Wain’s pieces,” Learner says, “is that before, these resins could only be used to cast in quite small volumes. He wanted to go very, very large scale, so he had to invent a new resin.”
Learner says the “Pacific Standard Time” exhibition serves many purposes. Valentine’s gallery, for example, tells the story of how the piece was made, the invention of the new resin and the conservation complications.
“What we hope isn’t lost is … the fact that you can stare at this piece at different times of the day and it looks completely different,” says Learner. “As you walk around it, you will see different reflections and transparencies. You start to pick up on the surface itself.”
Sometimes the surface looks flat and perfect, at other times its ridges and imperfections are visible, he says. While some of those imperfections are due to regular wear and tear, much of the surface change occurs because of the resin itself.
“The resin actually keeps moving with age,” says Learner. “We think it’s fairly flat originally, but as it ages, these ridges develop on its surface.”
The exhibition faced a bit of conflict with the artist regarding the restoration of the piece, which could have easily been accomplished through sanding and re-polishing. But the institute decided not to.
“It’s really beautiful and very authentic that we’re not artificially taking it back to the 1970s feel,” says Learner.
He says that leaving the piece in its original state opens the debate of conservation and raises awareness of restorations' difficult dilemmas.
“Once you’ve done it [restoration], that’s it,” says Learner. “You’ve lost the original surface forever and you can’t put it back.”
Valentine’s gallery will be featured in the West Pavilion of the Getty until March 11.