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Ominous Shadows over the Moon: Leonardo Drew Takes Chelsea by Storm

Leonardo Drew, "Number 190" (2016), wood, paint, and mixed media installation (dimensions variable). (All photos by Jason Wyche and courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.)

Leonardo Drew
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
9/8 – 10/8, 2016

By MARY HRBACEK, SEPT. 2016

Leonardo Drew’s nine abstract wall works and a large installation, on view at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., challenge visitors with vistas akin to those ordinarily encountered in national parks. The shifts and protrusions, incongruities and perplexities of each individual hybrid relief create the anxieties and hopes, struggles, fears and desires that confront us as our environment verges on the brink of its physical capacities. One cannot be quite certain what these monumental works are saying; their black impenetrable masses confound us, stirring deep speculation. These works are no “head trip;” even devoid of the sensations of color, they radiate with physical materiality, the kind of energy that arouses your emotions and triggers your unconscious mind, whether you want to be agitated or not. Anselm Kiefer plays in a similar field with natural media lodged in XXL formats. From a distance, the works can almost be interpreted as huge drawings of black forms configured on the white walls; their minimalist underpinnings are focused and apparent. These pieces are stellar examples of the importance of the contributions that Minimalism, as a 20th century movement, makes to new directions and genres that incorporate its tenets.

Leonardo Drew, "Number 181" (2016), wood, paint, screws, nails, 111 x 220 x 39 in. (281.9 x 558.8 x 99.1 cm)

The wall works are fraught with paradox; the wedding of flatness with relief activates a push-pull Hans Hoffman tension that one usually associates with the opposition of hues and chroma in paintings. They are unusually complex. Their elements come forward off their flat formats in organized surges of extra large outgrowths that are classically balanced, which is quite a conjuring trick that attests to Drew’s masterly grasp of his process. They radiate a well-behaved, disciplined sense of constrained majesty that hints at their need to break free of the limits of their boundaries. They seem to be itching to misbehave, to make a mess, to scuff the wall. Drew’s dark vision can be interpreted as an apocalyptic message, as ominous shadows over the moon, or harbingers of a time of tumultuous upheaval. The absence of color recalls the fallow season of nature’s cycles. Yet the warmth generated by their texture makes these works accessible and personal, not altogether foreboding but actually friendly.

The feel of the large two-wall installation diverges noticeably from the dynamism of the reliefs. The piece could stand to be pruned of the many extraneous sticks that pepper the overall vista, diminishing its cohesiveness. Four or five striking works enmeshed within the detritus tend to get lost. The impact of the installation would be greater, far easier to apprehend, if it was downsized. Perhaps the tendency toward a tenuous disintegration, as seen also in “Number 189,” is an emerging new direction for the artist. “Number 189,” 2016, contains what appear to be blasted particles of wood that have been retrieved and pieced loosely together again. The group of sticks set at the bottom, propping the relief precariously in place, recalls thin attenuated expressive legs.

Leonardo Drew "Number 186" (2016), wood, paint, screws, metal, conté crayon 180 x 109 x 25 in. (457.2 x 276.9 x 63.5 cm)

Leonardo Drew, detail of "Number 186" (2016)

Each work narrates a rhythmic musical tale told in a language defined by Drew. He expertly compiles his panoply of wooden shapes and pegs, assembling them with exquisite balance. The artist tinkers with the edges to make variations that soften the geometric impact of black on the white gallery walls. His penchant for playing with forms that run up and down the edges makes the works more accessible and flexible. In “Number 186,” the centered logs hint at a sacrificed body of massive proportions.

Viewed from a distance, the thin white lines in “Number 181” recall pages of text topped by massed sticks and logs that impart richness and excitement to the piece. The notches of white wall between the three shapes draw the eye horizontally over rectangular forms that conjure tomb markers from an abandoned burial ground. In “Number 185,” the sharply projecting jagged logs and sharp twigs seem to cry out, striving to be free of the flat format of their base. Despite their power, the pieces are if anything a bit too tidy; they could do with some messiness to unleash the full scope of their highly expressive potential.

Leonardo Drew "Number 185" (2016), wood, paint, pastel, screws 121 x 134 x 30 in. (307.3 x 340.4 x 76.2 cm)

This is the caliber of exhibition that keeps Chelsea at the top of its mark on the international art scene, progressing beyond the Modern Masters of the 20th century, whose brilliancy illuminated the truths of their times, but times change (except in dictatorships). In a market where art is becoming a mere investment commodity, it does no harm to spur artists to imbue their works with the transformative powers of their hands, hearts, souls and minds. Advocates of the caliber of Peggy Guggenheim, who appreciate the authenticity and potential that true art provides, are still among us. Drew’s skill and command of his craft are unimpeachable. On balance this exhibition is a rave, a celebration of vigorous impressive art approaching the peak of its power. WM

Mary Hrbacek

Mary Hrbacek is an artist who has been writing about art in New York City since the late 1990s. She has had more than one hundred reviews published in The M Magazine/The New York Art World, and has written in print and on-line NY Artbeat.com, Artes Magazine, d’Art InternationalCulture Catch.com and Whitehot Magazine. Her commentary spans a broad spectrum, from the contemporary cutting-edge to the Old Masters. 

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