One Piece at a Time

“Bluffs” revisited at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Julie Rogers revisits Tara Donovan's miracle of buttons and glue.

By - Aug 16th, 2012 04:00 am

Tara Donovan’s “Bluffs.”

Go to the Milwaukee Art Museum, pick a work, stand before it for a long time. Tell us what you see. TCD’s One Piece at a Time series began with that thought in the summer of 2010. TCD senior editor Tom Strini handled the One-Piece duties then and in 2011. This summer, we have a variation. In the winter and spring, Strini worked with a class of graduate students in art at UWM. They did the One Piece drill at the Milwaukee Art Museum, wrote draft essays, then survived a writer’s boot camp with Strini (who, by the way, wrote about Tara Donovan’s Bluffs in 2010). We’re publishing the results, one piece at a time.

Delicate crystalline stalactites grow from the pedestal of  Bluffs, Tara Donovan’s biomorphic sculpture, at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Donovan and her patient assistants created Bluffs by stacking and gluing thousands of clear plastic buttons, one on top of the other. Parts of the sculpture appear to hang precariously on the edge of balance. The tiny domestic objects glisten in the light, like precious stones from an underground cave. The seemingly colorless buttons, massed, take on a fleshy pink hue. They meld with the subtle, cloud-like shadows the work casts on the surface of its white pedestal. The whole sculpture appears pixilated, like electronic static. Jagged textures along the coned formations create the optical illusion that the this is somehow out of focus.

Bluffs also evokes a sense of exploration.  It invites an imaginative journey through its dark crevasses of canyons, caverns and coral reefs.

Works by Dononvan’s Minimalist and Post-Minimalist older contemporaries surround Bluffs. Its sinuous complexity contrasts starkly with the clean lines and surfaces of the sculptures by Donald Judd, Sol Lewitt, Robert Morris and Eva Hesse.

Like Hesse, Donovan demonstrates a remarkable ability to transform common materials by means of the Minimalist tool of repetition. She didn’t stop with buttons. Donovan transformed plastic cups, tar paper, straight pins, glue, drinking straws and pencils into astonishingly beautiful sculptures and installations. Such humble artificial materials  transport the viewer into a mental state of discovery and the contemplation of natural phenomena.

Previously on this summer’s One Piece at a Time: Emily Scheider on Chuck Close’s Nancy; Matthew W. Lee on Freidrich Voltz’ Cow Herd at Lake Starnberg; Corbett Toomsen on Henry Vianden’s Landscape with Mountains and River; Brooklyn Henke on Caillebotte’s Boaters on the Yerres; Joe Grennier on Warhol’s Brillo Box; Eric Roman Beining on Torso of a Male Athlete; Aneesha Baldeosingh on Jules Olitski’s Heat Resistance.




Categories: A/C Feature 3, Art

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