By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Artist Leonardo Drew has sculpted a sprawling carpet for the latest installation in Madison Square Park, creating a topographical view of an abstract cityscape titled City in the Grass.
“You’re Gulliver and looking down on Lilliput, so to speak,” Drew said, referring to the satire by Jonathan Swift in which Gulliver is shipwrecked on an island inhabited by six-inch-tall Lilliputians.
The piece marks the 38th commissioned exhibition for the Madison Square Park Conservancy and opened in the spring, running through December 15.
Drew said that he’s never worked outdoors but was excited about the possibilities and appreciated the Conservancy’s guidance, or lack thereof, with the piece.
“(Curator) Brooke Kamin Rapaport does have a record of bringing in artists who don’t do things outside and she allows us to expand but include how we see things,” he said. “They definitely get out of the way of the artist.”
When the Conservancy first approached him about an installation, he also had a completely different idea from what he ended up installing in the park.
“The first iteration was going to be a giant exploding tree that was going to be 50 feet tall but it was very dangerous,” he said.
Once the project shifted to the kind of carpet that he ultimately created, he said that even with the initial idea, it morphed throughout the almost four-year process as he was working on it, bringing in colors when most of his work usually uses monotones like browns, blacks and greys.
“I was in China working with porcelain and glazing and the colors show up in this piece,” he said. “The piece in the center of the park was going to be a gigantic wooden carpet but because of what I was doing in China, all of a sudden colors started to intervene. I’m living one thing and it’s going to affect the art, so the color started becoming a part of the carpet and made it a sort of a Persian design.”
City in the Grass, which was created with colored sand, latex paint, plaster and wood, is meant to be a companion to a piece installed in Galerie Lelong at 528 West 26th Street.
“There’s a sereneness to the piece in the park but the piece in the gallery is exploding,” he said. “It was a yin and yang. Both are large-scale monstrosities being created simultaneously.”
Drew said that in addition to his travels influencing his work, he was also inspired by the way that the piece was constructed.
“Only once the piece was ground-based was there an evolution,” he said. “Even the title came about because it was going to be a big, undulating monster of a city and you have a carpet embedded within the city.”
The majority of the time that Drew spends on a piece is usually in the conceptual stage, he said, and noted that part of the whole process is the changes that come about throughout that time.
“If you’re making art, the longer you have to tinker with it, you can include that in the birth of the piece,” he said. “The actual creation of the piece was only since last September but all the thinking and all the theorizing was three and a half to four years. It was part of a process and you never just say that when you start working on a piece that’s when it started. The whole idea is to work through it.”
He added that this is the biggest piece that he’s ever done and one of the goals was to create a cityscape that was framed by the Empire State building.
“You’re challenged by that framing, trying to compete with these large scale things when you should fall in line,” he said. “It rolls into this position and comes in line with the city. Physical interaction with the art is in my philosophy but never before to the point where people are actually hands-on.”
With that philosophy in mind, Drew created the piece in Madison Square Park with the intention that park-goers would interact with the art.
“It’s all-inclusive,” he said. “People are climbing on the towers and chilling on the piece. All of these things are built into the piece. People should be complicit in finishing the piece by walking on it. The piece should have these experiences so it can have a better self. The viewer is completing the experience.”
The piece debuted on June 3 and will be on view until December 15.