Tara Donovan: Intermediaries at Pace Gallery

Tara Donovan
Pace Gallery
540 West 25th Street, New York
January 15 – March 6, 2021
All images copyright and courtesy of the artist and Pace Gallery

Pace Gallery presents Intermediaries, a solo exhibition bringing together discrete yet interrelated bodies of work created by Tara Donovan throughout 2019 and 2020. Based in Donovan’s rigorous investigatory methods and aggregative logic, the exhibition’s drawings, wall-bound pieces, and free-standing sculptures transform commonplace materials into totalities that test our perceptual limits. Intermediaries also articulates the artist’s ever-deepening exploration of art’s capacity to mediate phenomenological encounters that interconnect viewers to one another and their environment.

The exhibition’s primary concept underscores the structural and material openness of Donovan’s works, which are less to be looked at than looked through. Her art’s capacity to filter and reconfigure vision is most apparent in her free-standing, large-scale sculptures, made of transparent materials that refract light and distort their surrounding space. Stacked Grid (2020), for example, is marked by an orthogonality and monumentality that parallels and heightens the “white cube” of the gallery. Yet it simultaneously thwarts the rationality of the grid that is at the structural core of both the sculpture and its architectural context. Through their aggregation and play with light, the work’s translucent building blocks turn the modernist grid into an evanescent, almost pixelated, entity that, at times, appears labyrinthian. If Minimalism was augured by Frank Stella’s dictum “what you see is what you see,” Donovan, though operating in a minimalist idiom, tacitly questions this foundational emphasis on the self-evidence of vision.

Tara Donovan, Screen Drawings, 2020, Hanco Raven Letterpress ink on Arches cover paper, 18-1/8″ × 18-1/8″ (46 cm × 46 cm) © Tara Donovan

Based in a process of elimination and manipulation rather than accumulation, Donovan’s series of twenty-four drawings, titled Screen Drawings (2020), are the result of the artist’s meticulous interventions in the weave of metal screen fragments, which are coated in ink and pressed onto paper. Leveraging as much as disturbing the mathematical regularity of the grid, the drawings attune the eye to subtle shifts in pattern, the ambiguity of figure- ground relations, and instability of form. Housed in Pace’s first floor library, a series of 13 large-scale drawings was similarly created through the use of malleable fiberglass screens, stretched into a variety of patterns. These works’ layered compositions—whose all-over, optical effects range from intense vibrations to aquatic dissolutions—not only suggest movement but also encourage an ambulatory experience that combines seeing and feeling, eye and body. As materials that typically cover windows and hence filter the gaze, the screens forming the field of these two series point to vision as an always mediated phenomenon, even in the moment of creation. To “draw” these works, the artist had to look through and past the screen, translating their textile-like materiality into two-dimensional, graphic markings. By yet again mobilizing the grid, which has long served as the infrastructure of vision in both art (e.g., the perspectival scaffolding of Renaissance painting) and science (treatises on physiological optics are rife with diagrammatic grids), Donovan parses and breaks through this paradigm in the search for new perceptual models, new intermediaries.

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