Art Seen: National

TARA DONOVAN // PACE GALLERY

by Nadiah Fellah

A Closer Look

The scent of Tara Donovan’s recent work precedes any sight of it as viewers enter Pace Gallery’s New York space. The distinct, woodsy scent of paper overpowers the galleries, and becomes stronger upon approaching the columnar structure of her large, Untitled sculpture, created entirely from stacked index cards. In many ways, the earthy odor the work emits is appropriate, given the organic forms that the stacked cards simulate. Towering to a height of nearly thirty feet, and positioned brilliantly under the gallery’s skylights, the structure resembles those that might occur in nature, such as coral reef or stalagmite rock formations.

Donovan_1

Untitled, 2014. styrene index cards, metal, wood, paint and glue, 12′ 5-1/2″ x 22′ 4″ x 22′ 11-1/2″. Courtesy PaceWildestein.

Donovan’s work, as is typical with many of her monumental sculptures, rewards a closer look. From afar the structure appears coherent in its texture, and its sinuous lines effortlessly rendered. However, on closer inspection, the presence of thousands of stacked cards, and their careful positioning at alternate 90-degree rotations, become apparent.

The use of everyday objects in new and unique ways is a standard part of Donovan’s practice, and one that draws from the legacy of Minimalism. Artists like Carl Andre, Donald Judd and Frank Stella would often use common, everyday materials such as bricks and house paint, and their works would draw from shapes that one would encounter just as regularly, such as the ubiquitous cube or box-shape. Although Donovan’s work is often tied to her Minimalist predecessors, it notably departs from them in key ways. While her structures are built from everyday mass-produced materials, they are a far cry from the ‘non-compositional’ ethos of Judd and Andre. Instead, the intricate labor required, and the composed nature of their making is foregrounded in each work. Whereas any trace of the artist’s hand was often absent in Minimalism, the hand-made qualities of Donovan’s works are perhaps their most apparent — and appealing — characteristic. In this way, she provides a vital challenge to the legacy of many artists to whom her work is indebted.

The second work on view at Pace is equally awe-inspiring. Comprised of thousands of acrylic rods affixed to one another in radiating patterns, the work is ten by fourteen feet, and stands over twelve feet tall. Resembling a crystal rock formation, the organic shape it mimics is similar to previous works, as is its complex construction, which manages to look effortless from afar. In this way, Donovan is particularly adept at seamlessly uniting the iterative. While the accumulation of large quantities of like objects is at the heart of her practice, it is her skillful combination of these parts into a cohesive and graceful whole that make encountering them so mesmerizing.

Donovan_2

Untitled, 2014. acrylic and adhesive, 10′ 1/2″ x 14′ 2″ x 12′ 10-3/4″. Courtesy PaceWildestein

The acrylic rods used in this Untitled piece are also mass-produced objects, and they are a material that Donovan has worked with before. However, it departs from previous iterations—such as an installation she created at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in 2013—in its height and complexity. In these qualities, the artist has heightened the transformative effects of her humble materials, and the wonder-inducing qualities of her sculptures, which manage to transform the everyday into the truly astonishing.


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Tara Donovan is on view at Pace Gallery in New York through June 28, 2014.

Nadiah Fellah is a doctoral student in Art History at the Graduate Center, CUNY in New York.

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