Tara Donovan: Seeing Via Sculptures

Tara Donovan’s unfathomable new work, which uses thousands of black stirring straws, a room-sized stack of clear partitions, and “drawings” made of carefully manipulated metal grids, is currently on view in an exhibition entitled “Intermediaries” at the Pace Gallery in New York. Her obsessive transformation of familiar material is difficult to believe and impossible to finish.

Sphere, 2020

Visitors are first greeted by Sphere (2020), a 6 foot diameter sphere made of clear PETG plastic tubing – a material used to make water bottles. The surface seems to shift with every step in the direction of and around the sculpture and merge into strange breaks and levels of transparency. Visitors trapped on the other side of the sphere appear as ghosts in a cloudy prism-like pixelation.

Sphere, 2020 (detail)

Sphere, 2020, © Tara Donovan, courtesy of Pace Gallery

The main room of the gallery contains seven mysterious black squares in a darkened room. “Apertures” (2020) are more than two meters in diameter and each consist of hundreds of thousands of tiny stir sticks that are stacked in the frame like tiny hollow trunks. The well-known coffee straws are underlaid by a weak light that makes the pixel-like circles visible when viewed from the front. And since every move of your head changes your angle of view on the tiny tubes, a small, backlit spotlight appears to move with your own movement. Even more mysterious are the unique patterns that the stacked straws create through their very specific configurations.

Openings, 2020

Openings, 2020 (detail)

Openings, 2020 (detail)

The massive “stacked grid” (2020) is hardly contained in the walls of an adjoining room. The work is 9 feet high and 13 feet long and is made of clear plastic grids that resemble drawer partitions. The volume feels both weightless and imposing, dangerous and fragile.

Stacked Grid, 2020, © Tara Donovan, courtesy of Pace Gallery

Stacked Grid, 2020, © Tara Donovan, courtesy of Pace Gallery

Stacked grid, 2020

The 24 “screen drawings” (2020) were created by manipulating the mesh of metal grids before they were colored and pressed onto paper. Patterns within the grid result either from removing sections of wire or from bending / grouping the fabric with extreme precision. Although they are “ink on paper”, they have a similar magical effect as the sculptural works – a quality that lies somewhere between “looking” and “looking through” an object.

Screen drawing, 2020

Screen Drawings, 2020, © Tara Donovan, courtesy of Pace Gallery

Screen drawing, 2020

Screen drawing, 2020 (detail)

The greater power of Donovan’s work extends beyond the gallery. Most of all, your sculptures change the way you see common materials. Never before has my curiosity been so piqued by the screens on my windows or the grouping of straws at Starbucks.

If you live in New York, book your appointment now. Otherwise (and in addition) the Pace Gallery has created an incredible digital viewing experience that is immersed in the process and inspiration of the on-screen drawings that are now on view here.

What: Tara Donovan: Mediator
Where: Pace Gallery, 540 West 25th Street, New York, NY
(Appointments required: plan your visit here!)
When: January 15 – March 6, 2021

Images © Tara Donovan, courtesy of Pace Gallery, as marked.
All other photographs by David Behringer

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