Sunday, February 28, 2010

Out in the World

Where to begin? My trip to New York was packed with so many things. The fact that my friend Binnie Birstein and I made it into the city at all in the midst of that strange and unending snowstorm was tale enough by itself. But that the galleries showing my Two Faves were open when so many around them were closed, was truly a miracle, fate, coincidence or a beneficence from the Goddess of Happiness.

Leonardo Drew (yes, again)
Exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., January 30 - March 6, 2010.
(Note: you can click on any of these images and they will open much larger on another page.)

Here I am, looking like the world's happiest geek-in-black, in front of a piece by Leonardo Drew.

Two of the things I discovered on this trip: (1) If you're going to blog about it, get the work's title when you take the picture. (2) Never have your own picture taken - especially in front of an artwork.

So, because of #1, I am not able to give you the title of this work but because of #2, you get an idea of the scale.

This is the way the piece looks from the side. The bottom part is strand board, I think, a type of plywood that he has worked with a tool or chisel to dig into the wood and gouge out sections. The top is both milled lumber and branches - all painted.

This is a detail of the upper right corner. It looks like studio floor sweepings with very carefully placed little thin pieces of wood - a mixture of discard, salvage and transformation.

In visiting Drew and El Anatsui, I also became more aware of the difference in the way individuals view and photograph artists' work. These two shows have been well documented by professional reviewers and bloggers. One of the foremost art bloggers is Joanne Mattera, of course, and I previously saw her photos and those taken by my friend Sue Katz. When I photographed these two artists myself, my own concentration seemed to be very different from theirs. Of course I had the benefit of already seeing and being influenced by their photos, so my eye wasn't entirely innocent.

The piece of Drew's that I liked best was not one I had seen in photos previously, so I guess that means it was not everyone's favorite.

Drew titles his works with numbers rather than names, but since I don't know the number, I'm referring to this one, my favorite, as Black Swath. I thought it looked like a brushstroke of black paint across the whole piece, and I loved the movement it added to the grid. In the same segmented way that I believe Drew constructs all his work, this piece is composed of 24" x 24" panels, and there are 5 panels across and 5 panels down, making it 10 feet x 10 feet.

Here is a detail taken more from the side showing the tightly-packed pieces of lumber that comprise the black swath.

And here is Binnie standing in front of it to give you the scale.

I guess I related more to the "smaller" works instead of the massive fill-up-the-gallery black piece that you see when you first enter. I didn't get a full picture of that piece, just a corner that I could see from the next gallery.

I found this piece a bit scary because of its size and protrusions and its location. Because the gallery was so narrow, it was impossible to get back enough from it to really view the piece, so you ended up just walking past it to get to the rest of the gallery spaces. This work should be in a much deeper space to be seen as a whole instead of just in slices.

Another of the smaller pieces that I liked was one composed of shallow boxes constructed from what looked like old window framing. It was very reminiscent of later Nevelson, as Joanne Mattera (there I am, dropping her name again) noted in her blog post that pondered whether Drew was the love child of Louise N. and Anselm Kiefer.

So here it is - a Nevelson-ish piece that is maybe six feet by six feet and only a couple of inches deep.

Here is a detail showing the surface of one of the boxes with some pencil drawing under the black-painted branch. The color is a grayed white with an aged, salvaged look.

Here's another box that looks particularly like Nevelson's work.

But no matter how much Drew might be influenced by Nevelson as a predecessor, he remains his own man - and "man" is very much what I thought of in viewing this show because of the physical work and strength required to create it. So much manly labor was invested to carry out these ideas. (Of course manly labor is not strictly the province of men - look at Ursula Von Rydingsvard for a counter example.)

Now about ideas, I know that Drew's work is about regeneration from the time-worn, discarded and decaying elements of the constructed world. His is very much an urban world with nature intruding sometimes on the human elements. I think that this show is probably less about decay since less rust is used than Drew has included in the past, but I didn't see the really urban portrayal until I looked at my photos from the show.

This is one of Drew's pieces shot from below. You can see the shadows at the bottom of the image. But how much like the densely-packed city it is!

If these pieces were on the floor, they would be a diorama of New York.

When they are shifted up to the wall, they still retain this feeling but are less obviously a portrayal.

So my first eyes-on viewing of Leonardo Drew's work provided lots of discoveries. There is nothing like coming face to face with real live art. No matter how many written descriptions, photos, podcasts or videos you may read or see, you will never know a work of art until you come in close contact with it. Moral: virtual reality is not real reality and I have to get out more.


Donna said...

I love the way you photographed this work, it really showed what was going on in a way that an overview - head-on - could show. Where these taken with your new camera? What fun you must have had.

p said...

do you know how he assembled this as far as if he used nails? glue? what? its astounding...and i love the pictures you took. and love seeing you standing there (you dont look like a geek to me), seeing how big the work is in comparison.
fantastic post, cool to see different works too. lucky YOU!

Binnie said...

...and there's more to the adventure :)

Joanne Mattera said...

Great post, Nancy. Your perspective on the "city view" of the work reveals it in a way I;ve never seen before. Thanks for that. BTW, "Black Swath" is my favorite piece, too.

Anonymous said...

Nancy, nice post. I love what little I've seen of the work of Ursula Von Rydingsvard.
glad you like your new camera!

Nancy Natale said...

Thanks for commenting, Donna. Yes, these photos were made with my new little stealth camera. I was very happy with the results and found it so easy to carry and use. It was great.

Paula, I think most of this work is held together with drywall screws, from what I could see, and probably wood glue where appropriate. How he holds those panels up with what must be hundreds of pounds of wood protruding from them is beyond me. I'm no carpenter as I have proven beyond doubt.

Binster, it was great to see this show with you and you make an excellent model for scale.

Joanne, coming from the blog master you are, that comment is most appreciated. I'm glad to hear that Black Swath is your favorite. Somehow I expected that the grid and the breaking of the grid would appeal to you.

Lynette, Ursula is truly an amazing sculptor and quite a daring woman to take on the "manly" way of creating that she has.