Critics’ Picks

Leonardo Drew, Number 297, 2021, wood and paint, 97 1/4 x 94 x 38 1/2".

Leonardo Drew, Number 297, 2021, wood and paint, 97 1/4 x 94 x 38 1/2".

New York

Leonardo Drew

Galerie Lelong & Co.
528 West 26th Street
September 9–October 23, 2021

In Leonardo Drew’s exhibition here, exquisite sensitivity to form and materiality is expressed through meticulously constructed installations and sculptures that exalt abstraction’s political potential. A pair of wall-mounted pieces, Number 291 and Number 297 (all works 2021), are made from dense constellations of painted black wood assembled into lattice-like configurations: the former is composed of four clusters, while the latter features nine. These sculptures complicate the grid by using it as a substrate from which more organic shapes emerge and flourish. Number 307’s departure from its gridded armature results in a composition surprisingly reminiscent of the contiguous United States.

The show’s centerpiece is Number 305, which spans four walls in the gallery’s main space. Large black painted wood panels with chipped edges resemble landmass borders, referencing both the geographic and the geologic. Drew transforms cotton—a material long used by the artist for its connections to the history of American slavery—into an atmospheric element by cording and arranging it into circular patterns attached to canvas and hung at the top of a wall. Buried among the more earthen references in this piece are quieter allusions to the domestic and the autobiographical, such as a kitchen table leg or newsprint clippings of comics—emblems of Drew’s teenage years, when he was courted by DC and Marvel to be an illustrator—which are adhered to a couple of the artist’s signature horizontal wooden slats that punctuate the work with a rhythmic visual cadence. A large section of Number 305 features curvilinear pieces of wood brazenly painted with multicolored polka dots. Moments like this are electrifying, especially when the installation, absorbed as a whole, coalesces into an explosive black monochrome.

Indeed, individual and collective histories are expertly interwoven throughout this presentation and reverberate on a massive scale. Drew’s work envelops the viewer with its phenomenological, personal, and political resonances.