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A most personal gallery

Dean Valentine is Los Angeles' biggest champion of emerging artists. And he has turned his Beverly Hills home into a rotating exhibit, where edgy art coexists with fine antiques.

May 08, 2003|Susan Freudenheim | Times Staff Writer

He seems like just the kind of guy you'd expect to be a success in the television industry. Brusque-yet-polished New York manners, semi-casual dress, dry wit and enough self-deprecation to let you know right away there's a lot more intellect beyond the first impression. Dean Valentine, in other words, isn't immediately surprising when he greets you with a friendly smile. At 48, he's a longtime TV mogul who most recently has been spending the bulk of his time developing a family entertainment company. So when Valentine shakes your hand outside his Colonial-style Beverly Hills house, everything about him appears to make sense.

Until you walk in his front door.

Right off the bat there's the huge cartoon-like image of a skeleton head, set against a fluorescent-pink background -- a painting by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, whose work was recently featured in the "Superflat" exhibition by L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art. There's also a small drawing done largely in Vaseline by Matthew Barney, an artist whose obsessive visions are currently the subject of a retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York. And there's a series of works-on-paper by the Mexican-born, New York-based sculptor Gabriel Orozco, who also recently had a show at MOCA, as well as a much-layered drawing by Gregor Schneider, a German artist.

A very different Dean Valentine is behind all of this.

Add to this exuberant cacophony an Italian inlaid-wood commode, a Biedermeier chair and a colorful needlepoint rug, and you start to get the picture of a man who trades in adventure and powerful statements, and yet likes the comforts of a home. And that's just the front hall.

A former head of Walt Disney Television, Valentine was, until about 16 months ago, president for four years of UPN, a network best known for showing wrestling. In the last five or so years, Valentine has also become known as L.A.'s strongest advocate for emerging young artists, particularly -- though not exclusively -- those living and working here, and there is much evidence of that in his home. He shares this sprawling house, built in 1939 by architect Paul Williams, with his wife, film producer and former ABC-TV executive Amy Adelson, and their two small children.

They have filled it with a mix of beautifully tasteful yet mostly conventional antique furnishings -- chosen by Adelson -- and art that is completely the opposite -- chosen by Valentine. The juxtaposition of old and new, hot and even hotter in a sprawling house that looks like anything but a museum reveals the private side of Valentine -- a man who in just the last decade fell in love with art.

The house at one time belonged to Ernie Kovacs and has been added onto frequently over the years; it is now stuffed top to bottom with paintings, drawings and some sculpture, although the latter have been sharply reduced in number for safety reasons since the kids became toddlers. Many styles of work bump up against one another, but most of it is aggressively narrative, and as you walk through the house it's impossible not to stop constantly to figure out what it's all about. As he guides a visitor around the eight or so spacious rooms that display the collection, Valentine stops to point out the details of each of the 60 or so pieces installed here and often starts off with "This is one of my favorites." His opinions are strong, his knowledge deep and his enthusiasm unabashed. "I tend to like things that have great intellectual force and great physical presence at the same time," he says by way of drawing it all together. "There's a level of Romanticism in the work that I like. All the best art deals with issues of life and longing and beauty and truth."

You can see what he means in the paintings by New York-based John Currin, which are sprinkled throughout the house. A painting in the living room of a woman seated on a grassy hill evokes thoughts of loneliness and penetrating yearning. In the den another Currin, a life-sized image of a young female titled "Carol" is a classically dissonant image of seduction and vulnerability.

There's also the chess set by Orozco in front of the hearth in the living room titled "Horses Running Endlessly," where the board is much larger than the norm and every delicately crafted wooden piece is a knight. The work's scattershot arrangement is both silent and chaotic, as if all those horse heads are perched to begin to move at any second. Valentine says his 17-month-old son used to love to sweep all the pieces off the board, but has learned that's not OK.

There's sweetness and humanity to much of the work too. Andrea Zittel, based in New York and Joshua Tree, conceived a series of "escape vehicles" that would look like mini Airstreams on the outside, with custom interiors to reflect the buyer's yearnings. Valentine came into the project with some trepidation, having admired Zittel's work but not knowing her personally.

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