Tara Donovan’s recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art awakened me to how lovely and natural her sprawling forms can be, making me quite pleased she won a MacArthur “genius” grant. Composed of a single type of “ready-made” material, she deconstructs the material until you see the essence of its structure and qualities in the way she presents it. She uses mylar tape on the walls of the Met, tacking the shiny rings across the walls like the natural growth of fungus or barnacles. The photograph (below) gives you no true sense of the feel of the
walls, or the gloss of the transformed mylar. Donovan both brings the material into its essence, and gives it a new identity. The way she organizes her material, as one can see here, is organic and expansive, holistic in a way that encompasses chaos. I find the subtle, minor variations of the patterns of rings trance-inducing.
Let’s take another contemporary American artist, Cy Twombly, who I feel is more similar to Donovan than is immediately apparent. Wikipedia categorizes him as “well known for his large scale, freely-scribbled, calligraphic style graffiti paintings; on solid fields of mostly gray, tan, or off-white colors.” For both artists, scale is large. Twombly’s abstract paintings create similar designs whose internal harmony mimics that of nature.
Obviously Twombly is quite painterly and messy, and Donovan has a clean-edged, minimalist aesthetic to her sculpture. However, the works of both display a harmony through sprawling, organic balance in patterns echoing Donovan’s work above. Both artists use organic arrangements to evoke a chaotic materiality. Their works are atmospheric, rather than explicit, and scattered rather than centered. What they are saying about the world, even in Twombly’s paintings where he writes it out, is unclear, but how they say it is tantalizing.