Magazine article Sculpture

Making Chaos Legible: A Conversation with Leonardo Drew

Magazine article Sculpture

Making Chaos Legible: A Conversation with Leonardo Drew

Article excerpt

Leonardo Drew's newest and largest work to date, Number 197 (on view through October 29), activates and energizes the atrium of the de Young Museum in San Francisco with an orchestrated arrangement of wall-mounted sculptural elements. Claudia Schmuckii, the de Young's curator-incharge of contemporary art and programming, invited Drew to create the first in a continuing series of site-specific installations designed to respond to the museum's landmark architecture. Drew uses a variety of off-the-shelf materiais - wood, cardboard, paint, paper, plastic, rope, and string - combining them with occasional found objects such as branches or tree trunks. In his studio, he subjects these elements to labor-intensive manipulations that mimic natural processes, giving the illusion that they have burned, rotted, or rusted.

Number 197 is a good example of what Drew caiis "making chaos legible." It reads like music or text, moving right to left in mostly straight horizontai lines that progress down the waiis from ceiling to floor, accented with textural elements and occasional bits of color, broken up with jagged biack sticks and chunks erupting from the corners.

Drew, who was born in Taiiahassee, Fiorida, and grew up in the housing projects of Bridgeport, Connecticut, now iives and works in Brookiyn and internationaiiy. He attended Parsons Schooi of Design and received a BFA from the Cooper Union in 1985. He considers his works as a continuum, with new projects feeding off those that came before. Like many of his works from the eariy 1990s on, Number 197, which harks back to Number 123 (2007), empioys the grid as an organizing principie whiie aiso subverting it. Drew has had soio shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Hirshhorn Museum and Scuipture Garden in Washington, DC, and Artpace in San Antonio, Texas. His mid-career survey, "Existed: Leonardo Drew," aiso curated by Schmuckii, premiered at the Biaffer Art Gaiiery of the University of Houston in 2009 and traveied nationaiiy.

Jane Ingram Allen: Number 197 was commissioned by the de Young Museum, but what was its inspiration? Why do you number your works rather than giving them titles?

Leonardo Drew: As far as inspiration, I work pretty much around the clock in the studio, 18 to 20 hours a day sometimes, and it's an ongoing process-one work feeds the next. It's a symbiotic relationship with what is occurring in my life at certain times and how that is translated into what I do in the studio. My life is the studio, but traveling and seeing constitute revelations-like jazz music, or music in general. I am developing a cuneiform, and the parts are a microcosm of possibilities. The elements come together to create tone, with a resonance between tones, like key notes in music.

JIA: What do you want people to get from your work, particularly from Number 197?

LD: I don't think one can exist without the other-viewer and artist. There's complicity between them. I want people to read the work and experience it. I would love to be a fly on the wall and hear what people are saying when they look at my work. You are not giving them anything but the actual work, and sometimes it becomes a black hole that they have to work their way out of. A photograph just won't do it. There's nothing like standing in front of the work. It's like standing in front of the Grand Canyon, as opposed to looking at a picture of it. There should be a spiritual connection between the viewer and the work, which happens only when standing before the actual work. What the viewer should come away with, I hope, is a version of what I went through to create it.

JIA: How did you react to the huge lobby at the de Young Museum? Was the space challenging or intimidating?

LD: Yes, I can do big. This is probably my largest piece, but for me, small would actually be more of a challenge. Making something grandiose, large scale, involving the whole body, for me, is like an exorcism. …

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