Two immersive sculpture installations by Leonardo Drew on view at the Wadsworth
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Two immersive sculpture installations by Leonardo Drew on view at the Wadsworth
Leonardo Drew. Image by Randy Dodson. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

HARTFORD, CONN.- Two monumental installations of site-specific sculpture by contemporary artist Leonardo Drew are on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. Raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, now residing in Brooklyn, New York, Drew responds to a longstanding fascination with the life cycle by simulating material decomposition and transformation in his work. In this two-part project he has planned an interactive, outdoor sculptural landscape spanning the museum’s Main Street lawn and an expansive three-dimensional work that the artist refers to as an “explosion” for the museum’s Main Street lobby. The exterior sculpture is on view June 4 through November 14, 2021 and the interior sculpture will be on view June 18 through January 2, 2022.

“The Wadsworth is thrilled to be presenting two major, site-specific projects with internationally-recognized artist Leonardo Drew,” said Patricia Hickson, the Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art at the Wadsworth. “His upbringing in Connecticut provided pivotal experiences that are central to his way of working, which we celebrate in these ambitious, monumental installations.”

At the Wadsworth’s Main Street entrance, Drew’s dramatic “explosion” sculpture, Number 82S, rises twenty-four feet into the three-story atrium. A funnel-shaped wall punctured with windows bursts with solid and patterned fragments that extend three-dimensionally into the space. While Drew has been making these “explosions” since 2012, their form has evolved over time, from carefully ordered arrangements into their current excitation of chaos. They envelope and overtake the viewer with their physical immensity and visual complexity. According to the artist, the most recent of these works exercise new materials and color relationships. “They become the hieroglyphs of everything [I’ve] touched and are about [my] language expanding as [I] continue to explore other possibilities,” stated Drew. “That is the wonderment of these types of works.”

Outdoors, Number 81S, a reimagined version of City in the Grass, originally realized in 2019 as a commission for Madison Square Park Conservancy in New York, will occupy the Wadsworth’s Main Street lawn. This participatory art sculpture is created for public interaction. The sculpture takes the form of an expansive and undulating Persian carpet. Various color patterns activate the textured, rolling surface, which is interrupted by a dramatic tower reaching nearly twenty feet. The vertical structure simultaneously evokes an urban skyscraper and Buddhist stupa, a unification of intellectual and spiritual concepts. The artist cites children playing in his Brooklyn neighborhood as the impetus for the interactive work, which suggests an experience parallel to Jonathan Swift’s classic literary satire Gulliver’s Travels (1726) in which the shipwrecked Gulliver appears giant-like among the diminutive people of the island nation. Emulating such changes in scale, Drew has created an environment where the reduced-size towers rise from an oversized carpet inviting and encouraging visitors to engage with it directly to fulfill its purpose as a place for rest and reflection as much as performance and play.

In addition to the two temporary installations, a newly acquired work by Drew is on view in the contemporary art gallery on the first floor of the Wadsworth building. The wall sculpture, Number 83S, incorporates fragments of the Persian-carpet-inspired pattern, made with colored sand and paint on wood, that also appears in the works in the Main Street lobby and on the front lawn. Organized on an open-grid framework, black-painted branches extend from the edges of the overall form, like singed branch parts emanating from the deconstructed trunk of a tree. Number 83S embodies the hallmarks of Drew’s work, emulating the appearance of found materials although everything is new, employing the minimalist grid, and playing upon the tension between order and chaos. It joins the Wadsworth’s current contemporary art installation in dialogue with works by Antony Gormley, Sol LeWitt, Glenn Ligon, Rona Pondick, and Jack Whitten. Whitten, who died three years ago, was Drew’s teacher at the Cooper Union and an important inspiration who loaned the young artist his studio in 1992. The space facilitated Drew’s making of Number 25 (1992), a signature, groundbreaking work: a sculptural grid of raw bales of cotton, invoking both Minimalism and the history of slavery.

Leonardo Drew (American, born 1961) lives and works in New York, NY. Drew attended Parsons School of Design, New York, NY from 1981–82 and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1985 from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, NY. Drew was commissioned for an outdoor project for Madison Square Park in summer 2019, marking the artist’s first major public art project. Recent solo museum exhibitions include shows at the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS (2020); North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC (2020); de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, CA (2017); Palazzo delle Papesse, Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena, Italy (2006); and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC (2000). Drew’s mid-career survey, Existed, premiered at the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston, TX, in 2009, and traveled to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, NC, and the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, MA. Selected public collections include Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; Caldic Collectie, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, PA; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge MA; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA; McNay Museum of Art, San Antonio, TX; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Sorigué Foundation Collection, Lérida, Spain; St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY; Tate, London, UK; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; and Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, NC.

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