Just two weeks before the opening of her first museum survey at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston, Tara Donovan is named a 2008 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. Selected for her creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future, the new Fellows work across a broad spectrum of endeavors. The Foundation cited Donovan’s “dazzling body of work that will enrich the fields of contemporary sculpture and installation art for years to come.” Tara Donovan was born 1969 in New York City.
The ICA presents the first major museum survey of the American sculptor. Tara Donovan gathers 16 works from the past decade and displays a new installation commissioned by the ICA. The exhibition examines her distinctive sculptural process, exploring how a single action applied to a single material countless times can transcend our expectations. Donovan transforms large quantities of mass-produced items, drinking straws, toothpicks, and buttons, into stunning works of phenomenal impact. Layered, piled, or clustered with an almost viral repetition, these products assume forms that both evoke natural systems and seem to defy the laws of nature.
Spilling across half a dozen rooms at the ICA, her works are so straightforwardly beautiful. It includes rolls of adding machine paper piled on the floor, styrofoam cups suspended from the ceiling, and enough plastic drinking straws to cover a wall. This exhibition changes our perception of things seemingly familiar. Donovan revels the unrealized sculptural potential of pins, cups and plates. She understands how to use simple consumer products to generate complex results that speak to form, light, space and perception. The installations illustrate her sensitivity to materials, their innate properties, and potential to create evocative visual experiences.
Donovan’s work is about creating a system, using a structure and then repeating in incremental units that can expand from the finite to the seemingly infinite. From a distance, her work’s rhythm reminds one of the cohesion of cells and particles or even the geographic patterns of landscapes or clouds. She responds to their given form, texture and surface allowing them to accumulate in a set of given boundaries.
Her works invite you to approach the familiar with a new curiosity.