Tara Donovan
Boston Institute of Contemporary Art
Through Jan. 4

Tara Donovan turns everyday objects into “confounding, otherworldly” sculptures, said Christine Fernsebner in the Boston Herald. Plastic cups piled next to one another seem to create an alien landscape, while “Styrofoam vessels congeal into a soft canopy of tumorous sacs.” In Haze, thousands of drinking straws appear to form a mysterious gas. Untitled (Toothpicks) is a “washing-machine-sized cube” of said objects, which miraculously hold together “without the benefit of adhesives.” The 38-year-old recently was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant, and this is her first “greatest-hits” retrospective in a major museum. She works with familiar, store-bought objects, but she’s not making a statement about consumerism. Rather, she chooses materials “for their affordable availability in bulk and their aesthetic properties,” which she recognizes and reveals. “Donovan seems to have divined each of her materials’ hidden aspirations.”

This exhibition is “one of the most stimulating” I’ve ever seen, said Sebastian Smee in The Boston Globe. The unlikeliness of Donovan’s materials makes the finished product even more impressive. No one expects “to be bowled over by the beauty of, for instance, oodles of strips of Mylar folded and clustered and arrayed on the floor so they resemble a kind of floor-hugging, hemispherical marine life.” Nor to encounter crystalline stalagmites made entirely from buttons. “This unforeseeable element” is at the heart of the contradictions that mark Donovan’s oeuvre. Her sculptures are “labor-intensive,” but retain an air of casual whimsy. They are “fantastically simple” in their construction but endlessly complex in effect. And though built from humble objects, they are “unabashedly beautiful” in a way that few contemporary artworks even try to be.