Leonardo Drew: Palazzo Delle Papesse-Centro Arte Contemporanea

Article excerpt

"Existing Everywhere," Leonardo Drew's first major European exhibition, proves the New York and San Antonio-based artist to be a force of nature. The show's thirteen installations (one per room)--obsessively ordered compositions of industriously assembled unruly bits of crude materials submitted to an accelerated natural process of degradation--displayed an exquisite, often awe-inspiring magnificence, starting with Untitled, 1998, a wall covered with a vast expanse of small rusted boxes filled with pieces of fabric, wood, rope, straw, and even lace, stretched across quadrants to display its delicate patterns amid the decadence--all covered with a patina of rust. Reminiscent of a long neglected tchotchke cabinet, it aroused the feeling of sentimentalism stirred by once disdained familiar objects now valued for their varnish of memory, evoking the fascination of ruins. In Number 92, 2003, little cast-paper objects aged by a subtle coating of rust and confined in rows of glass cubes on a tabletop resembled the old bones in religious reliquaries or natural history museums.

Canvas boxes piled into a crescendo in a corner then descending and dispersing to fill an entire room (Number 28, 1992) looked strangely at home with the Renaissance-style frescoes on the vaulted ceiling; their rusty patina played off the earthy colors of the intricately bordered images of mythological chariots. In its first exhibition, at the Thread Waxing Space, New York, this work's associations were very different: In a former industrial space with its infrastructure exposed, the pile seemed the refuse of industrial production, or rather--placed across from huge hanging canvas apparitions with bloodlike stains--of a slaughterhouse. But here they took on the aura of antique debris in a deserted ancestral residence. Next door a squamous wall relief (Number 31A, 1999), composed mostly of the butt ends of wooden sticks and planks, looked like a gargantuan tree trunk, forcing the materials back to their natural roots in an evolutionary full circle. …

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