Tara Donovan at The Met

Tara Donovan (American, b. 1969)
Untitled (Mylar) (detail), 2007
Mylar and glue; 96 in. x 10 ft. x 1/2 in.
© Tara Donovan, courtesy PaceWildenstein, New York
Photo: Dennis Crowley

Tara Donovan is known for turning common, manufactured objects into abstract sculptural installations. Her work typically has dimension and substance—a 42” cube made from straight pins or amoebic honeycomb clouds made from Styrofoam cups. But for her current installation on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Donovan conceived of an archipelago of Mylar tape, a web of metallic loops that seems to grow across three walls of the Gioconda and Joseph King Gallery.

Donovan has said in the past that she makes a rule and then repeats that rule. It is not her goal to repeat nature but to suggest nature and science. To create a space where permanently ordered unity becomes graspable.

At the Met, the repetition of metallic loops stretch across long walls, down to the floor and up to the ceiling, but do not breach the structural boundary of the room. It seems that the fingers of the amoebic form would spill onto the floor and reach across the ceiling, but this work is almost more like a giant map across the walls—a bit stark and minimal. Millions of dime-sized loops repeat and reflect the light.

Donovan is committed to process. She seems to have taken Donald Judd’s notion of the specific object and discovered how the inherent physical characteristics of an object might allow it to be transformed into art. In her installation at the Met she explores the multiplication of thousands or millions of Mylar tape loops to generate a powerful perceptual phenomenon with subtle atmospheric effect. Is it an organism overtaking the room?

Then there is the play of light off the Mylar and stark concrete floors of the gallery reflecting off the white walls and illuminating the room. The effect is of being bathed in some strange, otherworldly glow.

Donovan’s work is almost more about light than object. Inspired by the work of James Turrell and Robert Irwin. Donovan’s installation is one that requires silent contemplation and meditation, nearly impossible in the busy Metropolitan Museum of Art. The work may appear biomorphic and organic, but at its core, what Donovan is providing is light and space that impacts the eye, the body and the mind.

One could possible achieve a feeling of transcendence amidst this installation—a oneness with one of the tiny molecules of Mylar. But the three-sidedness of the room is like an open womb, no life can exist in that space, it becomes a pass through venue from stairs to contemporary gallery and the opportunity for contemplation with the art is nonexistent and the work becomes some attempt at a specific object that is not a painting, though it covers the walls and not a sculpture though it is made of dimensional material, not a map and not an organism, but merely millions of tiny loops of Mylar tape without dimension or form or purpose. Appealing, but not quite as well thought out and engaging as other work by Donovan.

artsjournalist@mac.com Leanne Goebel visited New York as a 2007 Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer’s Grant recipient. She is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.

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