Friday, 26 July 2013

A 1000 cocktail sticks you should see, before you die! : Lahd Gallery visits the Tara Donovan exhibition at Louisiana Gallery, Denmark.

Perhaps you may not associate Denmark with cutting edge contemporary art. Yet if anyone has read Patricia Shultz’s book, ‘1000 places to see before you die’ you will already know the LouisianaMuseum of Modern Art epitomises the Danish perspective on modern and contemporary art and is a must see in itself. In fact, as a location, the Louisiana is the 85th most visited gallery in the world and having now visited we can see why.

On the shore of the Øresund Sound in Humlebæk, 35 km (22 mi) north of Copenhagen, Denmark we pitched up, ostensibly to see the exhibition of renowned American artist, Tara Donovan . But the Louisiana itself is a pertinent juxtaposition of the colonial façade and a bright minimal space within. These clean lines actually do justice to an artist who likes to approach her work in terms of science and experiment.

Donovan is an experimental alchemist.

Donovan has been quoted as saying she is ‘an alchemist’ who strives to transcend materials. This is evident throughout this first European exhibition of her work spanning the years 2004-2012. We were so impressed by the clarity of her vision even though, ironically, she does her best to make her chosen materials almost disappear.

This is an exploitation of low profile materials.

What fascinates the viewer is the use, of what Donavan terms, ‘low profile materials’. She exploits the anonymity of easily accessible mass produced objects such as cocktail sticks or plastics and revels in the idea these chosen materials possess little identifying colour. Compare this to the vibrant use of coloured plastic by Tony Cragg in the 1980s or the early highly pigmented sculptures of Anish Kapoor , for example. It marks a definite aesthetic shift.

An architect, scientist and clinical aesthete.

Her work appears clinical but what gives these unassuming shapes their potent sense of drama are the translucent or light-reflective qualities which are activated by body movement as a viewer passes. The beauty of these sculptures is actually inherent in the magical transformation from unremarkable piece, into stunning form. Certainly Donavan is both architect and scientist and takes location as a malleable aspect of the whole sculptural experience.

Donovan’s work is not a polemic on the mass-produced, or even the environment.

No preparatory drawings are made. Donovan feels the sculptures are like drawings in themselves. She is adamant her practice does not mimic nature itself but the ways of nature. As a sculptor she is keen not to be pigeon-holed. Her work is not a polemic regarding the mass produced, or even its counterpart, the environment. The sculptures are very obviously about form but their minimalist structure, bland colours and lack of titles allow viewers to bring their own intentions and experiences with them. In this instance the beauty and intensity of the Louisiana country house, the water and the sculpture gardens inform these installations too. It was a heady combination.

From the microscopic to massive organic structures

Of particular fascination to us were ‘Mylar & hot glue’ a sculpture created by rolling up sheets of Mylar to form cones. These small units are then glued together to create more dramatic molecular structures. The second installation we found compelling was constructed with long cocktail sticks of some kind, which together look like iron filings or a mineral such as porcupine quartz or even ice crystals. Donovan focuses in on the microscopic as well as panning out with a director’s eye, to give us clinical yet organic sculptures, another oxymoron, that surprisingly emanates an intensity which defies attempts at anonymity.
A visit to both this exhibition and the Louisiana is a profound experience and is highly recommended by Lahd Gallery, London.


The exhibition at Louisiana has been created in collaboration with the Arp Museum, Bahnhof Rolandseck. A catalogue is available in English and German with preface by Oliver Kornhoff, director of the Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck and Poul Erik Tøjner, Louisiana’s director. Also included is an interview with Tara Donovan by Jutta Mattern, curator at the Arp Museum, and Mette Marcus, curator at Louisiana, and an essay by Marietta Franke.

The exhibition is part of the exhibition series LOUISIANA CONTEMPORARY.

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