Monday, February 14, 2011

Field Trip: Tara Donovan

Tara Donovan: Drawings (Pins)
The Pace Gallery 510 W 25th St, NYC
Feb 12, 2011 - Mar 19, 2011

See website for images from this current exhibition: The Pace Gallery

In her latest series, "Drawings (Pins)", on view this month at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea, shimmering metallic "canvases" are composed of dressmaker pins — tens of thousands of them. The cumulative effect is almost painterly. While these works are two-dimensional, they deal with the same issues as her "site-responsive" sculptures, as she calls them: "It’s all about perceiving this material from a distance and close up and how the light interacts with it."

-- Julia Curtin amarcordian (more)

The new series, which in fact arose from a stretch of print-making, is a perceptual delight, with light striking the pins in such a way that some clusters appear as inky black, others as gray, still others as shimmery silver, like a lake glancing in the setting winter sun.

-- ARTINFO (more)

While the majority of the drawings on view are visual fields that radiate from different light sources (determined by the density of pins on the surface area), two of the earliest works in the show depict clusters of circular organic shapes evoking cellular or molecular forms.

-- The Pace Gallery | Pace Press Release (more- pdf)

Tara (Video: PacePrints)

Tara Donovan builds large, labor-intensive, and site-specific installations out of everyday materials such as scotch tape, drinking straws, paper plates, roofing paper and Styrofoam cups. Donovan takes these materials and grows them through accumulation. The results are large-scale abstract floor and wall works suggestive of landscapes, clouds, cellular structures and even mold or fungus. In her words, "it is not like I'm trying to simulate nature. It's more of a mimicking of the way of nature, the way things actually grow."

-- Pace Prints Tara Donovan Artist Portfolio (more)


What appeared to be a question of object/non-object has turned out to be a question of seeing and not seeing, of how it is we actually perceive or fail to perceive “things” in their real contexts. Now we are presented and challenged with the infinite, everyday richness of “phenomenal” perception (and the potential for a corresponding “phenomenal art,” with none of the customary abstract limitations as to form, place, materials and so forth) – one which seeks to discover and value the potential for experiencing beauty in everything.

-- Robert Irwin, Being and Circumstance: Notes Toward a Confidential Art


A scattershot history of Tara Donovan's artwork:

Tara Donovan, Untitled (Toothpicks), 2004
Tara Donovan, Untitled (Toothpicks), 2004 (Image: Andrew Russeth)

In the mid-1990s, Tara Donovan was experimenting in her studio when serendipity struck. She knocked over a big box of toothpicks, picked it up, and then noticed that the spilled contents had latticed into a shape that echoed the perfect corner of their container.

-- Jen Mergel and Nicholas Baume, in Tara Donovan (more, including an excerpted interview from the book)

Tara Donovan .|. Toothpicks .|. 2004 (video: reel aesthete)

Donovan knows, too, when to manipulate illusions. It would be a mistake to ask her materials to mean something specific, to distinguish them from a model landscape in a science museum. They do not raise challenging associations with America's social fabric as process or wasteland… They do not reimagine a gallery opening at which the same opaque plastic would serve ecologically correct wine… Rather, their impulse is simultaneously domestic and formal, like the visual overflow of a dream.

-- John Haber (more)

Untitled (Styrofoam Cups)
Untitled (Styrofoam Cups) (Image: mike)

My notion of the “field” is essentially co-opted from discussions of high modernist abstract painting, in which the edge of the canvas is understood as the only delimiting factor in what would otherwise be an infinite plane extending in all directions.  For me, the architecture of a space is the only delimiting factor of my work. I don’t really invest too much thought into making precise distinctions between what is a sculpture, installation, or landscape. I think that debate and the resulting collapse of such categories occurred in the ’60s and ’70s, and contemporary artists such as myself get to enjoy the fruits of that polemic.

-- Tara Donovan "Prelude: A Discussion with Tara Donovan" (Art:21) (more)

IMG_5016 Tara Donovan, Lever House
Tara Donovan, Lever House (Image: Peter Sealy)

The effect common to every installation–wrought in each instance out of workaday materials–is the protean appearance of its objects from afar. From across the gallery, Untitled (Mylar Tape) (2008) evokes not the frank banality of its medium, mentioned in the title, so much as a commingling of nacreous shellfish or a cluster of seaborne invertebrates, huddled and glinting against the gallery walls. Only on closer inspection do they reveal themselves to be mere loops of reflective tape.

-- Ara H. Merjian Frieze (more- pdf)

Tara Donovan at Lever House, NYC (May 2009) (video: ballenato63)

As the team gathered around to look at her handiwork, which remained contained in a neat rectangle by the wooden frame, the broken glass began to crackle and pop, like thousands of Rice Krispies.

-- Carol Kino, in "The Genius of Little Things" (New York Times) (more)

View New York Times slideshow

Preserving Art: Untitled (Plastic Cups) Indianapolis Museum of Art on ArtBabble

"Haze" 2003, a giant installation of clear drinking straws, came crashing down when installed at Ace Gallery in New York a few years back–a far cry from the danger of a looming Richard Serra lead prop, to be sure, though a way bigger mess to clean up. Still, the point isn't just about this particular moment of literal undoing, but rather the way Donovan's work courts demise, a death drive no less insistent for being rendered so exquisitely.

-- Suzanne Hudson ArtForum (more- pdf)

Tara Donovan on Wikipedia

Tara Donovan at The Pace Gallery

Tara Donovan at Stephen Friedman Gallery

Tara Donovan at the Met (past exhibition)


  1. thanks for this. This is better than going to the show and the gallery oughta hire you to do this for all their shows.

    The artwork raises familiar questions to me and I will take the opportunity to examine them once again here if you don't mind.

    Do we admire art for the ideas behind it, the skill with which it has been created, or the perseverance and single mindedness it took to create it?

    Maybe we admire the promotional skills or value the emotional weight.

    Are these factors in our evaluation forming an equation toward admiration? Each viewer having his own requirements for each of their own factors?

    Meanwhile, the Art world, your personal art World, and the cultural moment each have their own set of factors to be reflected upon.

    I have been a big proponent of just feeling it in my heart but my heart has been hijacked by my sub conscious and I have to keep a close eye on its impulsive sometimes self destructive decisions.

  2. Nice to see this up Mab and to hear Sowa's comments. I just so happened to be in NYC in February for my own video screening at a gallery next to the Pace. After my opening was walking with some friends to go to dinner and noticed the Pace was having a public opening of Tara Donovan's "Pin" show, we went in. At first I thought hmmmm, but then I realized they were all made of pins and I was conflicted, such as Sowa has put it above. The designs were ok, and I thought is it the "perseverance and single mindedness" that is a draw? It was a sold out show, I asked the staff behind the counter how much, and they said 170K to 330K per piece, there were around 25 of them. Anyway, thought I would share that story. Thank you Mab for your wonderful Blogs! and nice to hear from you Sowa :)

  3. Sowa, so happy to see your thoughtful musings! Sorry it's taken me so long to respond!

    Congratulations on your opening, Penumbra! And thanks for your comment!

    I don't know how I feel about Donovan's art!

    A few years ago I was much taken by the idea of her tumbling wooden toothpicks and immaculate plastic cups. But why? They do make an impression, and the everyday materials en masse make you look at these things in your own home in a different way. But, and this is a big but, I have not seen her work in person the way you both have, only in images and through the descriptions of reviewers. We all know what a difference the right photograph or words can make. This is why I tried to preserve a neutral tone in the blog post.

    Donovan's meticulous accumulations remind me of various things, such as domestic craft pieces and handmade assemblages constructed from found or readymade objects on an exaggerated repetitive scale (but not nature–as has been suggested–if I were made to compare it to natural process I would have to mention cancer cells).

    Which then leads me to think of litter and waste management, and mass industry, and international factory workers on production assembly lines these days not knowing the eventual destination or use of the things they make (whether bomb components or sweatshop garments)- which then leads me to the fact that these big installations Donovan makes are patiently assembled by worker bees and after the show, in her words are "taken out with shovels." Shovels, now there's an idea, oh wait Duchamp did that one….

    Anyway the new 2D show apparently has a pragmatic context: the basis for an ongoing way to generate money from the pinhead pictures as prints in editions. So it's a cash cow, or more accurately, pin money. Nothing wrong with that.

    When I saw Koons's sculptures on the roof of the Metropolitan I thought 'meh…' and looked at my watch. But then I got drawn into the reflections of the children surrounding me in the shiny surfaces, then noticed I could see a bit of the autumn foliage of Central Park in them, and the buildings surrounding the park, and the sky, and the clouds, and the distortions from the curvatures and fingerprints, and random flitting insects. I was following my visions staring at it for awhile- if you're able to lose yourself standing before something that makes it a bit more personal and you regard it more patiently than you might otherwise.

    So I was imagining that these shiny new pin fields could possibly have that effect in the right light and in the right company. In other words optimal viewing conditions might include interesting surroundings and not so much thinking.

    Especially not so much thinking about impaled butterflies….

  4. Oh yes, they did have this hypnotic pull to them, the dress pins, when you realized what they were.I really don't care if people spend alot of money on art, the more the better! It helps to support a supple mind. The pins became the fabric of the pieces to me. Always to me its the third life a piece of art that hooks me in, like the reflections you saw in the Koons' sculptures on the Metropolitan rooftop, which is one of my favorite places in NYC. I found recently on the top floor of the New Museum another good view went there for the George Condo show.

    I did pin butterflies but only dead ones I found:)

  5. Next time you go to NYC take me with you!!! :D We can hunt butterflies!

  6. She is one of my favorite artists and I really enjoyed your post. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for stopping by Todd! I enjoyed having a look at your web site!