Artist Tara Donovan has a magical ability to transform the familiar into the strange. Take for instance these massive gray scale pillars that appear, from a distance, like an enigmatic landscape. Go closer, however, and you’ll be surprised to see that these incredible room-sized sculptures are actually the result of an amazingly laborious effort of stacking around a million styrene index cards into mammoth three-dimensional shapes.
The beauty of Donovan’s site-specific work lies in its unexpected simplicity and accessibility. The New York-based artist is renowned for turning humble mass-produced objects, like plastic cups, scotch tape, and buttons, into the building blocks for massive and ephemeral sculptures. Once assembled together through labor-intensive repetition, the objects seem to disappear into a whole, only to spark amazement once observers come close enough to discover what the artwork is made from.
Her latest mixed-media masterpiece can be found at the recently reopened Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Created with the help of a team of assistants, the installation comprises hundreds of thousands of stacked and glued index cards that form 10 asymmetrical looming spires. Each tower ranges from 8 to 10 feet tall. The stacked index cards are offset from one another allowing the light to create shadows, which added to the subtle changes in hue, gives the towering landscape a highly textured and color gradated appearance reminiscent of archeological strata.
The Renwick isn’t the first place where Donovan has installed her amazing index card landscapes; however, every sculpture is unique and specific to the gallery room. In a video at the Renwick Gallery, Donovan described her work as “activating the inherent potential of an object through repetitive labor.” By creating mammoth installations that are at once strange and familiar, the sculptor challenges observers to rethink the prescribed meaning of an everyday object in a new light. Donovan’s piece, named Untitled, will remain on view through July 10, 2016 at the Renwick Gallery.
Images © Lucy Wang