In Boston a few weeks ago I looked in on the splendid little Tara Donovan retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art. You could say that Donovan’s art is an ingenious hybrid of rigorous post-Minimalism and traditional handcraft. The architect Louis Kanh used to famously ask “What does a brick want to be?” Donovan seems to ask the same question about things like paper cups, Scotch tape and toothpicks. For any given work she takes a single ordinary object or material, thinks about it and then acts upon it in ways that end up producing unexpected and often quite beautiful outcomes. Who knew that thousands of styrofoam cups could be formed into a cumulonimbus ceiling sculpture?
Donovan teases out the paradoxes of matter — like for instance that greater density can make certain things dematerialize. This would be the lesson of her plastic soda straw piece, which involves hundreds of thousands of straws piled at the perpendicular to a wall. What that creates is a rolling white landscape so evanescent it might as well be a fogbank.
A work like that makes you think of the perceptual tricks of Robert Irwin. At other times she brings to mind Sol LeWitt or Eva Hesse. But she’s very much an original. When I heard a few weeks ago that she had won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, my immediate reaction was: “Sounds right”.
This is a link to a Time.com slide show of her work.
(And speaking of LeWitt, this is the piece I wrote about him in the new issue of Time.)