Leonardo Drew considered a few different concepts before settling on the abstract cityscape he recently installed on Madison Square Park’s Oval Lawn, the artist’s first public work to date.
Originally, Drew, who is 58, wanted to make a giant tree—a sculpture to complement the oaks, elms, Ginkgo Bilobas, and other species. But ultimately accounting for the effects of wind and other elements proved too challenging.
“It was going to be this exploding monstrosity that ultimately would have decapitated someone,” Drew joked at a press preview for the exhibition. “I was the adult in the room who said ‘no, we’re not going to do this piece.'”
In the end, he opted for City in the Grass, an installation inspired by the children who often visit Drew at his Brooklyn studio, where his sculptural works are typically spread out on the floor. Drew noticed that they often likened his weathered wooden forms to an aerial view of the city. He decided to design the Madison Square Park project “as if I was Gulliver and this was Lilliput.”
The topographical view is punctuated by three towers with stacked forms that are reminiscent of the Empire State Building, which overlooks the park from the north and provides a stunning backdrop to the work. They rest on a colorful sand mosaic designed to mimic a Persian rug, the verdant lawn peeking through in holes in Drew’s wooden surfaces.
The artist hopes park goers will be drawn to the work’s undulating form, which has been likened to a magic carpet. And the public is welcome to walk across its surface or perch on the towers. Drew sees the inevitable wear and tear that will occur as part of the work itself. “Abuse this piece!” he said.
Sprawling across the park lawn, the piece is almost a sculpture in repose, a serene and peaceful addition to the landscape of the park. It’s a powerful contrast to the explosive sculptural installation Number 215, the centerpiece of Drew’s current exhibition at New York’s Galerie Lelong.
The materials are similar—both works feature sand mixed with colored latex paint, layered on wood—but Number 215 appears to burst from the back wall of the gallery, like a torrent of wind frozen in time.
“If you give me a challenge, I take on that challenge. There’s never safety in the studio. You always have to address the thing that you don’t know,” Drew insisted. “The unknown is always the best place for me to be in.”
Working on both projects at the same was not easy. Drew likened it to dealing with “seven crying babies.” Nevertheless, he was up to the task.