Tara Donovan at the ICA


In only its second year in its expanded space the ICA seems to be doing a great job of putting together some compelling exhibits. Somehow they’ve already managed to lure A and me to see our third show this year. Even though it felt like we’d just been there to see the Anish Kapoor exhibit (which we enjoyed), we found ourselves back there to see the Tara Donovan exhibit, which opened in early October and runs through January 4.

We’d been intrigued by one of Dononvan’s works that we’d seen among those in the ICA’s permanent gallery, an imposing cube made more or less entirely of straight pins, so we were looking forward to seeing more. In a surprisingly on-target and gratifyingly artspeak-free description of her work the ICA’s website says:

    In the artist’s hands, common, mass-produced items—toothpicks, buttons, drinking straws—become captivating sculptures.

    For over a decade, American sculptor Tara Donovan has transformed huge volumes of everyday items into stunning works of phenomenal impact. Layered, piled, or clustered with an almost viral repetition, these products assume forms that both evoke natural systems and seem to defy the laws of nature.

To describe the works in detail would ruin the surprise somewhat and fail to do justice to works that (I hate to use the cliche, but) truly have to be “experienced”. But it should suffice to say that this was one of the most worthwhile modern art exhibits I’ve seen in a while. Part of that may be due to my own love of nature; Donovan successfully captures the same serenity and mathematical perfection, while at the same time combining them with additional layers of meaning due to her choice of medium, namely mass-produced everyday objects. Her work is incredibly accessible, a trait that usually immediately makes me suspicious and bored because it means dumbed down and belabored, but not in this case: this is a unique, worthwhile exhibit that I can whole-heartedly recommend to anyone. And apparently a lot of other people find her art worthwhile as well. Not that awards necessarily mean anything, but just two weeks before the show opened (her first museum survey ever, apparently), Donovan was named a 2008 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant.

Much as I enjoyed this and the previous exhibits we’ve seen, I’m hoping the ICA balances out these crowd-pleasers of large works by tackling some far less audience-friendly exhibits. Either way we’ll definitely be keeping our eye on what’s coming up next. Oh, and don’t forget that the ICA is free for all from 5 to 9 p.m. every Thursday night.

It doesn’t seem like there’s been much press on the exhibit, but the Globe had a little blurb about it a couple of weeks ago. The Globe also ran a little blurb mentioning that David Byrne visited the exhibit when he was in town for his performance at the Wang.

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