The Mississippi Museum of Art (the Museum) is presenting Leonardo Drew: City in the Grass, a participatory, public art sculpture that invites viewers to engage directly with the work, the space it occupies, and one another while maintaining a social distance. The Brooklyn, NY-based artist considers the work complete when people interact by sitting, standing, and walking on or around it, disrupting the “do not touch” directive at most public art installations and sculpture parks.
On view September 26, 2020–February 21, 2021 in the Museum’s Art Garden, City in the Grass (2019) is the first outdoor sculpture by Drew whose practice incorporates tactile materials like wood, metal, and canvas he distresses by hand. Exposed to the weather, physical use, and the passage of time, the sculpture—measuring over 100 feet long and 30 feet wide—is intended to degrade naturally, connoting life cycles and the potential for regeneration.
Undulating aluminum waves painted with vividly colored sand evoke a Persian carpet in motion, suggestive of a magic carpet ride enabling viewers to participate as artistic collaborators by imagining their own journeys. The waves are punctuated with three skyscraper-like towers reminiscent of the Empire State Building’s spire, each with a unique surface treatment. Mosaics of wooden blocks form a miniature cityscape encircling each 16-foot tower and providing a bird’s eye view perspective. The artist intends for viewers to imagine being giants like Gulliver, the hero of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 satire, in fictional Lilliput. Voids in the surface of the “carpet” allow grass to grow through them creating tiny parks within the sculpture’s borders.
The Museum’s Chief Curator and Artistic Director of the Center for Art & Public Exchange, Ryan Dennis (she/her), said, “We are delighted to showcase this exceptional public artwork created by Leonardo Drew, a Southern-born artist. Visitors will be enchanted by the monumental scale of this fantastical sculpture and the topographical perspectives and variations of textures. City in the Grass is the wonderful outcome of this innovative artist’s exploration of the potential of public art to invite people into the experience—to spark our imaginations as we connect with the sculpture and one another. A unique but intentional aspect of the sculpture is to inspire us to take time to look closely, slow down, and come out to play.”
Drew, a cinephile, cites the science fiction classic “Metropolis” (1927) and the musical fantasy “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) among his inspirations for the work. His vibrant palette for City in the Grass derives from time spent in China and investigating the properties of porcelain and glazing and firing techniques. The three towers reveal the artist’s other experiments with materiality and impactful forces breaking down the wood, metal, and surface elements.
During the viewing period, visitors will also have an opportunity to engage with local artists, performers, writers, and curators inspired by the installation through a variety of digital and in-person programs.
City in the Grass was commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York, NY, where it debuted in the Park in 2019. It also traveled to the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC, where it was on view in 2020 before coming to the Museum.
Mississippi Museum of Art Hours: Tuesday through Thursday 11AM to 7PM; Senior Hours Tuesday through Thursday 10AM to 11AM; Friday through Sunday 11AM to 5PM. For more information, visit msmuseumart.org.