Installation view with 40” Glass Cube, Pin Cube, and Toothpick Cube, 2005. Courtesy Ace Gallery Los Angeles.

Rules for Growth: A Conversation with Tara Donovan

In 1999, the year she was awarded an MFA in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University, Tara Donovan mounted her first solo museum show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Her poetic, beguiling installations, made from commonplace, mass-produced objects such as drinking straws, Styrofoam cups, and toothpicks, present a new type of sculpture that playfully re-assesses the legacies of Pop and Minimalism. Patiently and laboriously creating stand-alone sculptures and room-sized installations, Donovan systemically transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Untitled (detail), 2004. Shattered tempered glass, 35 x 35 x 35 in. Courtesy Ace Gallery Los Angeles.

Now, a mere six years later, her room-sized works such as Haze, shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego last spring and subsequently re-created at Ace Gallery in Los Angeles alongside a bevy of other major projects, underscore her ongoing fascination with the making of things. Like early Serra works that once threatened the well-being of a New York gallery space with their imposing mass, Donovan’s Transplanted, which weighed in at roughly 10 tons, prompted the gallerist to call in a structural engineer to assure the viability of the project.

Whether ethereally light or massively heavy, Donovan’s sculptural accumulations ironically evoke such natural forms as fog banks, clouds, water, and sea cliffs. Creating lyrical, deeply contradictory works, she melds consumer culture’s unending demand for toss-away items with a continued longing for nature. Returning to a labor-intensive process, Donovan re-affirms the importance of the physical world in the creation of sculpture.