Critics’ Picks

Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2015, metal Slinkys, 20 x 40'.

Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2015, metal Slinkys, 20 x 40'.

Water Mill

Tara Donovan

Parrish Art Museum
279 Montauk Highway
July 4–October 12, 2015

In 1943, naval engineer Richard James accidentally invented what would become one of America’s most beloved toys—the Slinky. Seventy-two years later, there is nothing accidental in the way sculptor Tara Donovan wields this famous spring. Showing off her ability to see the potential for art in almost any object, the three abstract, site-specific pieces (all works untitled and 2015) that Donovan created for this museum—a wall relief, a freestanding sculpture, and a monoprint—are methodical exercises in manipulating form and emulating function, to celebrate the Slinky as well as to defy its designation as a toy.

In the relief, hundreds of flattened, connected Slinkys stretch from floor to ceiling. Just as the object is compact when still and seems to extend infinitely when in motion, Donovan’s piece can’t be contained. It fills the room, creeping from one wall to the next. The artist relies on a window to shower the piece in light, under which it shimmers joyously. Elsewhere, a sweeping sculpture twists and dips in a dizzying reef of metal. Architectural yet organic, the work is alive but immobile, striking a balance similar to the institution’s building itself with the local plant life that surrounds it. Both exalt the man-made and natural worlds.

The influence of Eva Hesse and Maya Lin is evident in Donovan’s labor-intensive process and obsession with organic forms. One thinks of Lin’s simplicity and serial aesthetic or Hesse’s affinity for experimentation and emphasis on materiality, most notably in Expanded Expansion, 1969, a sculpture that can also be compressed and lengthened at will. And, just as the Slinky captivates with its ability to “walk” on its own, Donovan’s transformed works stay with you as they walk through your imagination with nostalgia in tow.