Tara Donovan

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Tara Donovan
Born 1969
New York

Tara Donovan (born 1969 in New York) is an American artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She is known for site-specific installation art that utilizes everyday materials whose form is in keeping with generative art.


Born in 1969, in Flushing, Queens Tara Donovan is a contemporary American artist focused in sculptural and organic subject matter. Donovan grew up in Blauvelt, New York. Her studies began at the School of Visual Arts, New York in 1987-88. Donovan received her BFA at the Corcoran College of Art and Design, Washington, D.C. in 1991. On her time at Corcoran College, Donovan said "I think I was learning how to think abstractly."[1][2] She earned her MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 1999 when she received her first interview in Articulate Contemporary Art Review. Before attending VCUarts, Donovan tended bar and waited tables for six years, and didn't quit her day job until 2003, when her first New York solo show, at the Ace Gallery (when it had a branch in New York), proved a breakout success.[3]

Donovan has been represented by The Pace Gallery, New York since 2005 and by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London since 2007.

Early life[edit]

Although she was born in Queens, Donovan grew up in Rockland County, in a small town called Blauvelt. Growing up near New York her parents worked in the city. Her mother was an executive secretary in the stock market and her father owned an Irish pub on Wall Street. Tara was the middle child of three siblings, she has one older sister and one younger brother. Growing up there was not large artistic influence, rather just a love for making things. It wasn’t until college, at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington D.C. that she began to consider herself a sculptor. From then on Donovan began entering regional art shows to display her works until she helped create her own gallery space in an old converted D.C. nightclub called the Insect Club. From that point, Tara went back to graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University to complete a two-year program. While going to graduate school Tara worked full-time and also created works for a solo show in Washington D.C. In the year 2000 Donovan participated in the Whitney Biennial. After that Donovan lived and worked as a waitress in New York when she finally was contacted by Doug Christmas to show a piece in the Ace Gallery in L.A. This meeting was a breakthrough show for Donovan leading to more opportunities and shows in and out of NYC.


In 1998, Donovan held her first solo exhibition, Resonances, at Hemphill Fine Arts in Washington, D.C.. In the same year, she exhibited New Sculpture at Reynolds Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. From 1999 to 2000 Donovan exhibited Whorl at Hemicycle Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.. Upon receiving the call that she would be exhibiting this site-specific installation, Donovan is quoted as saying "I screamed and ran around in circles ... What do you think?"[4] Following Whorl, Donovan showed a series of exhibitions at Ace Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. In New York May 11, 2006 - April 22, 2006 Donovan had a show at Pace Gallery in New York, where she showed an installation, Untitled (Plastic Cup). This installation was in large scale and resembled a topographic landscape. This was also the third time showing work at this location. The first was in 2005 called Logical Conclusions. The second was a summer group show that same year. In February 12 – May 19, 2011, Donovan had another exhibition at the same gallery called Drawings (Pins) where she showcased more than 12 large scale drawings. Some other exhibitions at Pace Gallery include:

  • Tara Donovan: Drawings (Pins), Feb 12, 2011 – Mar 19, 2011 included more than twelve drawings
  • Untitled (Mylar), May 4 – April 9, 2011
  • Beijing Voice 2011: Leaving Realism Behind, November 9, 2011 – February 12, 2012
  • Art Basel Miami Beach, December 5 – December 8, 2013
  • Grounded, January 17 – February 22, 2014[5]

Although many of Donovan's exhibitions were held by Pace Gallery, she also had her work showcased elsewhere, one of which was Rice Gallery in a show called Haze that ran from November 6 to December 14, 2003. For this show she created an installation piece made of everyday materials such as straws, toothpicks, pencils and scotch tape. [6]


Donovan's work uses everyday manufactured materials such as Scotch tape, Styrofoam cups, Paper plates, Toothpick, and drinking straws to create large scale sculptures that often have a biomorphic quality. Her sculptures must be assembled and disassembled carefully, which sometimes involves an extremely tedious process. With regards to her artistic process, Donovan explained that she chooses the material before she decides what can be done with it. She noted in an interview that she thinks "in terms of infinity, of [the materials] expanding."[3]

In her show at Hemphill Fine Arts Donovan showcased the piece “Tar Paper.” This minimalist-conceptual work was the most powerful and successful piece in the show. Taking up most of the galleries front room it was made with the assistance of friends at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and consisted of 120 rolls of tarpaper that was ripped up and placed on the floor. The resulting structure was approximately two feet tall and thirteen and a half feet by seventeen and a half feet in length and width. Another piece that was displayed at the Hemphill Fine Arts is titled “Untitled (toothpicks).” It was a standing cube constructed with thousands of toothpicks pressed together, at once seeming as fragile as a sand castle and as solid as a hay bale.

“Whorl” a piece of Donovan’s that was shown at Manhattan's Whitney Museum of American Art was made out of 100 percent nylon fiber under the name of Allied Signal Product Code 30039. 8000 pounds of the fiber was bundled and trimmed into tiny puffs that where then piled onto the floor. On her piece Donovan said "I'm playing around with the idea of mimicking nature by referencing the organic processes through which things actually grow. I want to create the feeling that it could take over the space in the way mold could." The piece spirals out from the center of the room in a fashion similar to Robert Smithson’s “Jetty.” [7]

Her work was featured in the Whitney Biennial in 2000 and the All Soviet Exhibition. She was the recipient of the Alexander Calder Foundation's first annual Calder Prize in 2005. In 2006 her work was featured in a solo exhibition at The Pace Gallery in New York,[8] the gallery that has represented her since 2005. Donovan presented new works in a 2011 solo show at Pace entitled Drawings (Pins). Donovan installed Untitled (Mylar) in November 2007 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, made of silver Mylar tape.[9] She was the fourth artist selected by the museum for an ongoing series featuring contemporary artists, preceded by Tony Oursler, Kara Walker, and Neo Rauch. Donovan was a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.

Donovan says of her work, "It is not like I'm trying to simulate nature. It's more of a mimicking of the way of nature, the way things actually grow."[2] Fellow artist Chuck Close told a reporter that "“At this particular moment in the art world, invention and personal vision have been demoted in favor of appropriation, of raiding the cultural icebox. For somebody to go out and try to make something that doesn’t remind you of anybody else’s work and is really, truly innovative—and I think Tara’s work is—that’s very much against the grain of the moment. To me, it represents a gutsy move.”[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Baume, Nicholas; Mergel, Jen; Weschler, Lawernce (2008). Tara Donovan. United States: The Monacelli Press, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in association with The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston. p. 139. ISBN 9781580932134. 
  2. ^ a b "Hammer Projects: Tara Donovan". Retrieved 2010-02-09. 
  3. ^ a b c Diane Solway (September 2008). "Grand Illusion". W magazine. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  4. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael. "Tara Donovan's Power Puff 'Whorls'". 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ [3]
  8. ^ "press release" (PDF). The Pace Gallery. 
  9. ^ "Past Exhibitions: Tara Donovan". Met Museum. Retrieved 2009-05-06. 

External links[edit]