Material Girl


Her shimmering installation of cut electrical wire in the 2000 Whitney Biennial was so flagrantly beautiful that nearly everyone ignored it. It was hard at that moment to deal with its extreme accumulation, its nebulous formality, or its almost autistic fascination with raw visuality at the expense of anything vaguely resembling a social issue. Now Tara Donovan, who had a museum show at the Corcoran in 1999, is back with her first New York solo. The work is still beautiful and aloof. And at this profoundly weird moment in history, it’s still hard to deal with. Her neo-post-minimal recuperation of the pure abstract logic of substances and processes and fractal formality makes her a new sort of material girl.

A vast black, layered tar-paper topography occupies Ace’s grandest gallery. Striated and buckling like sliding tectonic plates or oceanic swells, it’s an earthwork manqué that exudes the smell of tar. In Ace’s other grand space, a wall work—some 12 feet high, more than 40 feet wide, and seven inches deep—blurs the back wall into a cottony fog. Titled Haze, it’s an improbable cloud, made out of nothing more than unaltered drinking straws, over a million and a half of them according to her count. Assembled on site, not affixed or attached, her works glom onto any surface that will have them, but with stunning detachment.

In one of the smaller galleries, the floor erupts in zillions of sticky curls of scotch tape. A colony of short pencils fills the smallest space. And the final large gallery sports a sublime accumulation of glinting puddles, each a translucent blob of Elmer’s glue. Says Donovan, who’s now experimenting with the possibilities of paper plates, “There’s obviously a lot of labor in each piece but there comes a point where I want the work to look as if it could grow on its own and expand indefinitely. I think of them as growths.”