The Los Angeles artist Wendell Dayton, known for his evocative assemblage sculptures fashioned from metal parts, has died at age 81. After spending five decades devoted to his practice but showing very little of his output, Dayton had a major career moment last year, when the gallery Blum & Poe staged a retrospective of his work at its Culver City space, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) acquired one of his early sculptures, Crescent (1968), for its permanent collection. The stainless steel sculpture is more than eight feet tall and consists of an intersecting triangle and crescent, their forms shifting and contrasting as the viewer moves around the piece.
At the time, LACMA’s associate curator of contemporary projects Jennifer King told Artsy:
I suspect that [Dayton’s] work has remained under the radar in part because of the timing of his move from New York to Los Angeles in the 1970s. [. . .] In New York, he was part of a cohort of downtown sculptors working with industrial materials such as sheet metal. When he moved to L.A., he continued working steadily in this vein. His work was less in dialogue with movements that were developing in Southern California at the time, such as experiments with light and space.
Born in Spokane, Washington in 1938, Dayton earned his BFA at Indiana University before hitchhiking from Bloomington to Manhattan in 1960. There, he joined the bustling downtown art scene, living in a series of lofts and becoming associated with members of the Park Place Group, a coterie of sculptors known for working at very large scales (including Mark di Suvero and Robert Grosvenor, whose floors Dayton swept) and organizing shows at their lofts at 79 Park Place.
Twelve years later, Dayton, his wife, and their newborn son Sky (an Artsy board member) moved to L.A. He worked primarily as a carpenter but maintained his artistic practice, all the while making increasingly large and complex works which eventually filled nearly every available space of his property in L.A.’s Sunland neighborhood. “The neighbors love this stuff, and if they’re walking they’ll direct themselves toward my place,” Dayton told Artsy last year.
Timothy Blum, a co-founder of Blum & Poe, told Artsy that Dayton’s Sunland property will become a publicly accessible site for the permanent display of his work. He added:
He was such a fascinating and idiosyncratic California dude, and the land on which he lived and worked is emblematic of that lifestyle. I think it’ll become one of those essential California destinations for cultural road trips and pilgrimages, a place to visit and contemplate his rich life, which was a pretty incredible story—as great a story as you can hope for.