American artist Leornado Drew’s exhibition on abstraction at Goodman gallery wins the hearts of Joburg art lovers

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

This past weekend as some were attending the RMB Latitudes Art Fair, some took time away from the hugely successful fair, whose tickets were sold out by Friday, to attend the opening of an important exhibition that puts abstraction in the spotlight once again in South Africa. It is not so often that one gets to attend and view an exhibition of abstract art objects in South Africa these days. More so of a good exhibition on abstraction such as Drew’s current exhibition. And the people who did so on Saturday did not regret the decision as a whole new art experience opened before their eyes.

I found myself among many a collector, member of the public and artists attending the opening of Leornado Drew’s first ever exhibition in Africa simply titled Drew 27 May – 1 July 2023 Goodman Gallery Johannesburg.

Leonardo Drew and Edward Tsumele

Not only were we enthralled by the giant site specific art work, and some of abstract art objects on the walls of Goodman Gallery in Parkview, but we were also equally left in awe of the artist’s use of unusual materials –burnt cotton plant stems to create these art objects with of course colour black as the dominant colour. In fact in all the art objects on display in this exhibition, the colour black is so dominant that it prompted one guest to ask what it was with the colour black in his art.

“First of all the colour black in this exhibition is open ended and therefore you can make it to be what you want it to be. But of course If you want to look at it with a political lens, it simply shows that black is beautiful. We are beautiful. Right?” The artist asked rhetorically while looking at moderator Professor Hlonipha Mokoena from Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research (Wiser) where she holds the title of Associate professor. There was laughter throughout the gallery.

Drew in this wide ranging and intellectually stimulating conversation with Mokoena, went on to explain how years ago he ditched drawing and painting to create abstract sculptural art objects. This meant spending four years travelling between New York and China, learning, thinking and creating. “Part of what you see here is as a result of the work I did during those four years of travelling between New York and China,” he said. The artist after all the years of experimenting and making art objects through drawing and painting to transitioned into a new way of creating art. He seemed to suggest that he has eventually found his voice in his art practice. Music, particularly jazz plays an important part during his process of creating art,” he told the audience.

The artist seemed to have won the hearts of many after his presentation as he was congratulated for this great exhibition. This simple means that the American abstractionist has gained new followers in South Africa, If the reaction of the audience during Saturday’s opening is anything to go by. This exhibition   include a major site-specific work as well as other recent wall-based sculptures. His practice builds on the history of abstraction and artists such as Jackson Pollock, Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, Pablo Picasso, and William T. Williams. His work also pays homage to Abstraction’s deep roots in Africa. His own abstract sculptural language is articulated through his weathering of raw materials and plays on the tension between order and chaos.

The representation of Drew by Goodman Gallery was announced earlier this month ahead of the current exhibition simply titled Leonardo Drew 27 May – 1 July 2023 Goodman Gallery Johannesburg.

“Goodman Gallery is pleased to announce the representation of New York-based artist Leonardo Drew in collaboration with Galerie Lelong & Co. This month, Drew will exhibit his latest body of work at Goodman Gallery HQ in Johannesburg, marking the artist’s first solo exhibition on the African continent. Leonardo Drew27 May – 1 July 2023 Goodman Gallery Johannesburg,” the gallery announced at the time.

 “Leonardo Drew is one of the most significant sculptors of his generation. While his work powerfully recalls post-Minimalist sculpture in the US context, Drew’s dynamic studio practice also pays homage to Abstraction’s deep roots in Africa. After programming Drew in London and facilitating a major site-specific sculptural installation at Art Basel Limited last year, it is a great privilege to finally host his first solo presentation on the African continent”- Liza Essers, Goodman Gallery Owner & Director.” said.

Who is Leonardo Drew?

Leonardo Drew(Leonardo Drew (b. 1961, Tallahassee, Florida) is a New York-based artist who, over three decades, has become known for creating contemplative abstract sculptural works. Drew transforms accumulations of raw materials such as wood, scrap metal and cotton to create works that play upon a tension between order and chaos. His surfaces often approach a language of their own, embodying the laboured process of writing oneself into history. Drew currently has solo exhibitions in the UK and the US with new site-specific installations at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, respectively.

Solo museum exhibitions have been held at the Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kennesaw State University (2022); Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson (2020); North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh (2020); de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, California (2017);Palazzo Delle Papesse, Centro Arte Contemporanea, Siena, Italy (2006); and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (2000).

Drew’s mid-career survey, Existed, premiered at the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston in 2009 and travelled to the Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, and the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Portrait: Leonardo Drew Installation view: Leonardo Drew, Goodman Gallery, London, 2022. Click here to watch a video of Leonardo talking about work from his London show.

Leonardo Drew exhibition is currently on at 163 Jan Smuts Ave, ParkwoodJohannesburg+27 11 788 1113jhb@goodman till July 1, 2023.

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