What They Were Doing Then: Tara Donovan

I’m fascinated with creating chaos out of something and then reconstructing it and giving it new order.

Like this week’s featured muse Maria Borghoff Perry, Tara Donovan is large-scale installation artist with a penchant for celebrating and embracing the organic, biomorphic aspects of art. Like Maria, Donovan’s work emulates nature, although her materials are not all-natural. In fact, Donovan goes out of her way to select everyday, manufactured materials that serve as the antithesis to the vibe of the project as a whole. For example, some of her most notable pieces have been constructed from tar paper, toothpicks, nylon fibers, Scotch tape, and even Styrofoam cups.


Donovan is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and fellowships in the art world, including the inaugural 2005 Calder Foundation Prize and a 2008 MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant, which acknowledges outstanding achievement “on the very edge of discovery” and “new synthesis.” In an age when art is often deemed to be recycled, disingenuous interpretations of the same ideas, Donovan’s work is refreshingly unique and singular, in that it is very unlike anything that has been seen before.


Although Donovan is now celebrated for her captivating installations and sculptures, at Maria’s young age of 23, Donovan had just earned her BFA (Bachelor of Fine Art) from Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC. She spent the next six years devoting herself to sculpture and trying to make a living, which meant waiting tables and bartending until she could return to graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University to obtain her MFA (Master of Fine Art). It wasn’t until 2003, at the age of 34, after the breakout success of her first solo show, that Donovan was finally able to quit her day job and dedicate her full time and energies to art. Like Maria so eloquently puts it, Donovan is living proof that when efforts are made in the pursuit of your passions, they will never go to waste.


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