Blum and Poe
June 30 - August 18, 2018
Wendall Dayton, Turnstile, 2011, Stainless steel, terra cotta, 69 1/2 x 96 x 96 inches
Before his exhibition at Blum and Poe, I was not aware of the work of Wendell Dayton. Born in Spokane, WA in 1938, Dayton now resides on an expansive two-acre plot in the San Fernando Valley where he makes and displays his sculptures. He studied at Indiana University (BA, 1960), then moved to New York City. He worked as a guard at the Whitney Museum and lived in downtown lofts, befriending artists such as James Rosenquist, Robert Grosvenor, Claes Oldenburg, and Mark di Suvero. Although Dayton returned to Los Angeles in 1972, this exhibition at Blum and Poe is the first comprehensive display of his work.
Despite the quantity of sculptures on view, it is hard not to be smitten by their presence and elegance. I instantly found parallels and connections to sculptures by both David Smith (materials) and Mark di Suvero (graceful balance).
While the exhibition spans both floors, it is the large stainless steel sculptures on the ground level that made me wonder why I had not encountered them before. Upon entering the space and having the opportunity to view the works from all vantage points, I was enchanted and entranced by both their formal and technical prowess. It is easy to imagine the works situated in the landscape were many of them resided before the exhibition. In the San Fernando Valley, Dayton has created his own sculpture park in essence. Removed from this context and relocated to the gallery, the works are now infused with a pristine - do not touch - aura. That being said, the urge to touch them is hard to resist. These human scaled stainless steel sculptures are just as comfortable inhabiting the white cube and take command of this new environment. While the sculptures converse with each other en masse, each has its own raison d'etre.
, 2011 sits on the floor atop four square concrete slabs separated by red bricks. Perched above these seemingly ordinary building materials is an array of criss-crossing welded stainless steel circular forms and horizontal bars that radiate from a central axis. This quirky sculpture is elegantly poised. Like a turnstile, its irregularly shaped bars extend along the perpendicular, both inviting and threatening simultaneously. Beauty
(2004) is a graceful arc that rises from the floor, extending more than twelve feet high above it before descending. It is complemented by another bar that rises vertically and bends slightly at the top. When seen from the side, the work becomes a simple line drawing that abstractly references the body and tail of a giant fish. Some of Dayton's sculptures are non objective while others reference human beings (Rachel
, 2016) or natural phenomena, (Meteor
, 1974 or the Rising Moon
Dayton has a knack for combining found and haphazardly cut fragments of stainless steel. His welded or bolted joints are often obvious, which gives the work a home-made presence. As I wandered through the downstairs room I circled back and forth, delighting in the interrelationships between the pieces and the ways they occupied space.
Upstairs, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by the great quantity of smaller works placed alone or in clusters on top of white pedestals. Here Dayton's wit thrives as does his creative command of these materials. I was awed by the simplicity of Circle
(1979) fashioned from a rusted wire coat hanger. Here the cut and twisted wire becomes a perfect circle with a tail, standing just a few inches high off the table. Similarly, Wheel #2
(2016) appears to be just that, a rusting 10 inch steel wheel that has been cut in half, twisted 90 degrees and recombined to create the illusion of two, rather than one connected circle. The small stainless steel Flight
(c. 1975) suggests the wingspan of a flying bird whereas Ballet Dancer #2
(c.1975) alludes to the outstretched limbs of a sprawling performer.
When viewing this six decade survey, it comes as quite a surprise that Dayton has not received more prior recognition. But once the floodgates have been opened there is no turning back and it seems evident that now into his eighth decade, he will get his well deserved due.