Tara Donovan: Seeing Through Sculptures

Employing thousands of black stir straws, a room-sized stack of clear dividers, and “drawings” made from meticulously manipulated metal screens, Tara Donovan’s unfathomable new work is currently on view in an exhibition titled “Intermediaries” at Pace Gallery in New York. Her obsessive transformation of familiar material is difficult to believe and impossible to exit.

Sphere, 2020

Visitors are first greeted by Sphere (2020), a 6-foot-diameter sphere made from clear PETG plastic tubes – a material used to make water bottles. The surface appears to shift with every step towards and around the sculpture, fading into strange refractions and levels of transparency. Visitors caught on the other side of the sphere appear as ghosts in a cloudy prism-like pixilation.

Sphere, 2020 (detail)

Sphere, 2020, © Tara Donovan, courtesy Pace Gallery

The main space of the gallery holds seven mysterious black squares in a darkened space. Measuring over six feet across,“Apertures” (2020) are each comprised of hundreds-of-thousands of tiny stir sticks, stacked like tiny hollow logs within the frame. The familiar coffee straws are backed by a faint light that reveals the pixel-like circles when viewed head-on. And as every movement of your head changes your viewing angle on the tiny tubes, a small back-lit spotlight seems to travel with your own movement. Even more mysterious are the unique patterns that the stacked straws create through their very specific configurations.

Apertures, 2020

Apertures, 2020 (detail)

Apertures, 2020 (detail)

The massive “Stacked Grid” (2020) is barely contained within the walls of a side room. Measuring 9-feet-tall by 13-feet-long, the work is composed of clear plastic grids that resemble drawer dividers. The volume feels both weightless and imposing, dangerous and fragile.

Stacked Grid, 2020, © Tara Donovan, courtesy Pace Gallery

Stacked Grid, 2020, © Tara Donovan, courtesy Pace Gallery

Stacked Grid, 2020

The 24 “Screen Drawings” (2020) were created by manipulating the weave of metal screens before inking and pressing them on paper. Patterns within the grid result from either removing sections of wire or bending/grouping the weave with extreme precision. Though “ink on paper”, they too take on a similar magical effect as the sculptural works – a quality that is somewhere between looking “at” and “through” an object.

Screen Drawing, 2020

Screen Drawings, 2020, © Tara Donovan, courtesy Pace Gallery

Screen Drawing, 2020

Screen Drawing, 2020 (detail)

The larger power of Donovan’s work extends beyond the gallery. Her sculptures preeminently shift how you see common materials. Never before has my curiosity been so ignited by the screens on my windows or the grouping of stir straws at Starbucks.

If you live in New York, book your appointment immediately. Otherwise (and additionally), Pace Gallery has created an incredible digital viewing experience that dives in to the process and inspiration of the screen drawings, on view here now.

What: Tara Donovan: Intermediaries
Where: Pace Gallery, 540 West 25th Street, New York, NY
(appointments required: schedule your visit here!)
When: January 15 – March 6, 2021

Images © Tara Donovan, courtesy Pace Gallery as marked.
All other photographs by David Behringer

David Behringer visits over 200 galleries every month to uncover and share the most exciting contemporary art in New York today. Subscribe to his exclusive weekly newsletter at and learn about his private gallery tours. And be sure to check out his YouTube.