Tara Donovan received her MFA from VCU in 1999, and in that same year had her first solo museum show in Washington, DC. Donovan reassess the legacies of Pop and Minimalism by using mass produced materials such as drinking straws, Styrofoam cups, toothpicks, and tar paper. While Donovan’s sculptures range from extraordinarily light to obscenely heavy, they always evoke natural forms, ranging from fog banks, clouds, water, etc. This could be interpreted as a continued nostalgia for nature; by returning to her labor-intensive processes, she reaffirms the importance of the physical world in the creation of sculpture. Tara Donovan is noted for letting a chosen material do exactly what it wants to do, and not forcing it to act a certain way. For example, in her piece Haze (1999) Donovan was attracted to the “strawness” of the straws, their verticality and hollow core. She arranged the straws in such a way that the material would comply, allowing the millions of straws to become opaque when placed in a large group. I believe this is where Donovan has success as an artist; she understands how the material wants to be manipulated, and then stays true to that decision. Her use of multiples reinforces the nature vs. mass produced items that she so often juxtaposes within her work. Another juxtaposition is improvisation versus intention. Donovan claims her work is very improvisational; boundaries are set for her assistants, there is no drawing involved, and, ultimately, the material dictates the final form. When asked in an interview “what do you find to be the most interesting thing about sculpture today”, Donovan replies, “I’m interested in my own process, in the set of rules I’ve created. As far as sculpture today, there’s definitely good work out there. For a while it didn’t seem like people were making things, but I think people are getting back to making things”.
Harper, Glenn. Conversations on Sculpture, ISC 2007.