The Whole Is Greater

The Whole Is Greater

Published on Friday, May 26, 2017. This article appears in the April/May 2017 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Department One Piece
Author Staff
Tara Donovan Untitled

Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2014, acrylic and adhesive, 10 x 14 x 13 ft.

Photo: Kerry Ryan McFate, courtesy of Pace Gallery

A lone object can be trapped by its function. Pencils are for writing, nails are for fastening. But multiply pencils or nails by the thousands, and the mass overtakes the individual, transforming how we see them. The same is true of acrylic dowels, often used in store displays. When arranged en masse, suddenly they shed their rigidity and morph into a plush reef form. The object transcends its use. It transcends itself.

Tara Donovan is an expert in such metamorphoses. She takes otherwise mundane materials and, through the power of repetition, transmutes them into something unexpectedly opulent. Her installations wash over gallery floors like waves or rise like lustrous stalagmites; they even float across ceilings and walls. But though their forms, seemingly drawn from nature, might seem a statement on our earthly environment, that’s not her intent. Rather, they are a study of materials themselves, of what they can be when pushed to an extreme.

It is the thrill of exploration and discovery that lures Donovan into her Brooklyn studio. She begins each work by isolating humble objects from their everyday context (an index card from note taking, buttons from clothing, Styrofoam cups from morning coffee), then multiplies them until they eclipse their usual purposes.

As Confucius wrote in the Analects, “Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” With patience and persistence, Donovan helps us see.