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ADPRO - New Show at Donzella Explores the Rich History of Metalworking

"People have been doing craft in metallic materials since the beginning of time," says the New York gallerist Paul Donzella. It was this rich history—and its evolution over time—that has inspired his eponymous gallery's latest show, cheekily titled "Heavy Metals" and opening on November 9. In the exhibition, Donzella has curated a wide-reaching selection of metal sculpture, furniture, and design objects ranging from the Hagenauer Werkstätte to works by contemporary artists. It's a striking example of how one single medium can lend itself to so many uses—and an apt lens through which to explore the history of design.

"I had been noticing the past couple years that the amount of metalwork in the gallery has been increasing, so I thought it would be a great way to explore that," explains Donzella. "Plus, a material exhibition like this allows me to dive in further and to explore the subject more fully." And dive in he did, spending a good year searching for examples that would complement his existing collection and expand the show's reach.

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A hammered lamp from the Austrian workshop Hagenauer.

 Photo: Eric McNatt

One prime example? Austrian work from the 1920s, especially that of the family-owned Hagenauer Werkstätte in Vienna. "The Wiener Werkstätte [a contemporary to the Hagenauer workshop] has been explored a lot, but Hagenauer has been somewhat ignored, so the show gave me the opportunity and permission to explore that further."

Using the Hagenauer pieces as early examples, Donzella sought out contemporary work that fit into the same narrative. "I decided my criteria would be contemporary work that was inspired by the historic work I represent," he explains. Donzella's gallery is, at any given point, comprised of about 60 percent historic and 40 percent contemporary work. For "Heavy Metals," though, the gallerist hopes the distinction between the two will be blurry, at best.

Said Donzella: "I wanted there to be a commonality, a sense that you weren’t sure in the gallery if it was contemporary or historical. I wanted that seamless quality in the show. I do think it’s interesting that even though the material has stayed the same, the ways you can work in metal have evolved over the years, so that’s a cool thing the contemporary artists can explore. I'm very intrigued by the methodology."

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A bench by Alexandre Logé.

 Photo: Eric McNatt

Indeed, the connecting thread is, quite simply, the material, and its continued draw for artists. As Paris-based Alexandre Logé, one of the show's contemporary examples, says: "Bronze is the material used in sculpture because it has one of the best patinas and because the texture is very special. It’s very specific. It is a soft metal, so you can have lots of shapes. Then on top of that, it’s also precious."

No matter how far the medium has come, though, and how much technique has changed, the best examples, as Donzella sees it, continue to have the same draw as the earliest works mankind created. "From the beginning of time you’ve had people doing craft in metallic materials, and it’s gotten easier to work with as time goes on—seeing some contemporary artists and what they can do with metal, starting out on a computer, is just mind-blowing," says Donzella. "One of the things I love about metalwork, though, is in so much of it you really see the hand in it, and that’s something that really speaks to me."

"Heavy Metals" runs from November 9 through December 21, 2017, at Donzella, 17 White Street, New York City.