after pestering miscellaneous individuals for months, i finally made it to the ICA today with hila, ariel, and hammer--just in time to catch the tara donovan show before it closes on january 4. her sculpture is usually made of prosaic materials (toothpicks, straws, styrofoam cups) but deployed in sufficiently enormous quantities that they lose that prosaic quality. the effect is amusing, deeply appealing, and wondrous. (here's her macarthur award citation.) time has a decent photo-essay that shows detail shots of her work, though the full effect of seeing her large pieces from afar is absent--most of the joy of approaching these works comes from the alienness of these shapes and forms from a distance, their familiarity of material only resolving when you get pretty close. exploring the materiality of things is what R&D art should be all about (for which, also see robert irwin's stuff).
i can't remember any sculpture i've seen recently either where the affect of the piece changes so dramatically and effectively at different scales of approach, except maybe the moss wall in the olafur eliasson show at SFMOMA.
my favourite piece from the ICA was haze which is not in the photo-essay; it is a wall of over a million plastic straws arranged horizontally. they'd been set down in bundles and allowed to spread out, contained only by the walls surrounding them. from a distance, the wall looked like a sheet of haze or foam; only when approached at a distance of 4-5 feet did the surface of the wall begin to shift, responding to even the slightest change of perspective. it was mesmerizing and delightful in the best possible way.
there was a wall filled with sheets of polyester film that really just defies description. from the side, it looked like an expanse of sandy material, but looked at straight on, with the light from the water-facing glass wall of the ICA coming from behind the installation, it became a random geometric arrangement of dark and light tan with the shadows of people behind the installation moving gently across it. there was a coral-like piece made of translucent buttons of various sizes epoxied together. ariel observed, accurately, that the thing looked permanently out of focus.
the piece that is probably the most photogenic, though without the chameleon-like quality of haze, is a ceiling-mounted installation of undulating topography made of thousands of styrofoam cups hotglued together. it makes you (or anyway it makes me) wonder why she doesn't try to use recycled materials more for this kind of thing.