LA Weekly, April 8, 2010, David McDonald at Jancar Gallery
As a sculptor, David McDonald has routinely embraced the small and the modest. The quantities of materials he utilizes - bricks, plaster, cement, wood, paper, cardboard - seldom amount to more than what you might find in a scrap heap, in the bottom of a bucket, or left over on a mortarboard after you'd used the rest of the materials to make some big thing. His largest works are no bigger than a refrigerator, while most could be toted inside an igloo cooler. His pair of 2008 exhibitions at Jancar and Jail Gallery were respectively titled "Un" and "Minor Monuments," and following in this line, his current show at Jancar is titled "Tiny Histories, 2005-2010." Arranged chronologically along a shelf that wraps three walls of Jancar's backroom, the "histories" are indeed tiny even to the eyes of those familiar with the usual size range of McDonald's sculptures. But miniature doesn't equal minor; the best of these are stealthily compelling. That said, they're not for everyone. Kin to an odd lot, including works by the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Judd, Richard Tuttle and Lynda Benglis, they fuse the tradition of art of the ready-made or found object - McDonald often makes bits and pieces that he then treats something like found objects - with the traditions of assemblage, minimalism and postminimalist explorations of visceral materiality. The result is a kind of scrappy minimalism, rooted int the compounding of cubic and cylindrical forms, often caught in a tension between order and disarray, and washed over with pleasure taken in the organic and the handmade. The crafting technologies that go into their manufacture rarely exceed the basics of stacking, gluing or nailing. In fact, it won't be hard for a lot of viewers to see them as bits of stuff stacked up - something like three-dimensional doodling - but it's a mistake to write off these amalgams of cast-offs as toss-offs. Far from it, they're devotional; their seeming casualness is the product of great care. That care and devotion can go astray, however, and despite McDonald's tendency toward the reductive, there are a couple of objects here that fall into the fussed - and doted -over preciousness, while a couple of others seem something like the sculptural equivalents of offspring only their parents could love. But the majority - such as a work that consists of what looks like the head of a small mallet, minus its handle, sitting atop a little plinth of wood with a lone peg, or another in which the tips of the pickets or wooden stakes affixed to a stubby column congeal into an encapsulated fusion of minimalist and Gothic architectural line - hit it just right, allowing viewers to share in McDonald's fascination with how nearly unnoticeable parts can add up to humble yet memorable and evocative sums. Such transformation is the primary story these works collectively tell, but parallel to this is one of imagination, both in the creative impulse of the artist and in the stories these sculptures begin to spark in the viewers mind. -Christopher Miles
Weekly, December 15, 2008
Mixed Media (Highlights)
David McDonald's delicate and subtle postindustrial abstract sculptures at Jancar (and currently at Jail) are among the best of the current wave of historically informed formalism emerging in LA. -Doug Harvey
Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2008, Palettes blend, themes contrast
Given the great confusion ofpurpose that often seeems to afflicting contemporary art - where anything goes, for better or worse - one has ever more reason to appreciate and artist such as David McDonald, whose work remains solidly rooted in a few profound fundamentals: color, texture, scale and the mysterious alchemy of material and form.
It's not work that advertises itself or goes out of its way to get your attention. Of the roughly two dozen sculptures in this show at the Jail Gallery, most are about the size of a fire hydrant and all sit directly on the floor. The materials are humble - wood, cement, mortar, and paint, primarily - and the shapes basic.
The cube has been a prominent McDonald motif in recent years. It appears here in "Non", a piece consisting of stacked gray and yellow box - like forms, and the particularly lovely "Nove Alberi," a free standing wall, about the size of a car door, made from slender wood blocks of fluctuating colors.
In the show's remaining works, McDonald shifts into an exploration of the cylinder: cast - cement forms of various heights and diameters, all vertical, loosely clustered in one corner of the gallery. If this all sounds rather dry on paper - like an exercise in geomerty, or just so much recycled Minimalism - what largely keeps it from being so is the extraordinarily resonant nature of the arrangements and surfaces.
For all its structure and the heft of its materials, the work has an organic tone and an improvisational, even spontaneous spirit. The cement is studded with pebbles, air bubbles and pockmarks. The pigments - mostly grays and blacks, with touches of turquoise and ochre - are loosely, even (it seems) haphazardly applied. They drip and splatter; in places they seem worn or peeled away. Each slip inscribes an element of character.
Though McDonald is clearly indebted to Western Minimalism, his more striking affinity is with ancient architecture and the more rustic strains of Japanese pottery.
The title of the show is "Minor Monuments," which encapsulates both the humility and the dignity of these absorbing objects. -Holly Myers
Weekly, December 31, 2004 – January 6, 2005
Art Pick of the Week
David McDonald’s once self-effacing sculpture is a lot more assertive
these days, without losing its grungy diffidence. McDonald has subtly
snuck a richer coloration into his floorbound Dagwood sandwiches of
wood, wax, acrylic, and joint compounds. He has also cooked up a passel
of really small, really informal, really colorful, and yet exquisitely
reasoned and assembled shelf objects. In their winningly peculiar combination
of offhandedness and obduracy, these neo-modern knickknacks marry Carl
Andre to Richard Tuttle, revealing McDonald’s minimalist roots
even more than do his relatively elaborate floor works. McDonald is
also now painting, and his color jones really goes into overdrive here.
But these lovely panels read as objects as much as they do pictures,
picking up on the flat plane where the 3-D pieces leave off. -Peter
Idea to Matter: Some Thoughts on Sculpture - 2000
illusion versus the real: this represents the fundamental difference
painting and sculpture. In painting, all is illusion: object, color,
shape, perspective. Nothing is “real” beyond the illusion
of reality created by the painter. It is, after all, all flat, all
false, and, in the best hands, all is wonderful and filled with illusion.
It comes down to the reality of illusion versus the illusion of
Really fine sculpture takes us beyond the “facts” of
the material – metal, wood, whatever- into metaphor. It takes
us beyond the concrete (no pun intended) into the implied, in the
same way painting (and drawing, of course) takes us beyond the surface
falsity to the suggested reality.
The two work identical if contradictory magics.
Sculpture is less popular than painting, I suspect, because it
asks a more complex suspension of disbelief on the part of the
or – perhaps – a more adventuresome mind. But sculpture’s
rewards are in many ways deeper, by way of its vital “presence.”
The sculptors in this exhibit come from all over. Four of them
are over fifty years old while others are variously younger. While
of them could be said to be household names yet – outside the
art world, of course; within they are either very well known or getting
there – some of the them have established powerful international
reputations, while others are certain to do so. And the older four
have the freshness of youth, and the younger have maturity beyond
All of them have certain things in common – besides excellence,
sureness, individuality, adventuresomeness – and paramount
among them is, certainly, the “hands-on” quality of the
work, the clear evidence of the artist making the art – molding,
carving, manipulating, intruding. There is no theoretical work here,
no work that is merely “idea.” It is all worked on, worked
through from idea to matter.
That all the work is abstract to one degree or another merely states
that it is, every piece of it, concerned with something beyond
mere representation, and has to do with a redefinition of the nature
Oh, and furthermore, the work is tough and demanding and thrilling
and absolutely beautiful. -Edward Albee
February 19. 1999
OverThere – A Critical Guide to San Francisco Events
David McDonald’s stumpy white forms are spread out on the floor
of Jennjoy gallery in such an erratic but deliberate pattern that they
make the space around them as valuable as themselves. In the last few
decades, some sculptors have felt that a work’s capacity to energize
space is at odds with its quality as a discrete object: a form can
emphasize on or the other. Bus in “still,” as the
Jennjoy show is entitled, the vibrancy the installation brings
to the air
it fills has everything to do with the autonomy of its several
The soft-surfaced cement column, tombstone-like blocks, upside
down cone, and small green-veined rectangles attached to the
the room by being slightly unlike it, a whiter pause in its expanse.
They guard the space the way tombstones do, marking out its emptiness,
what is gone in it. As with John Beech’s structures, the
energy they give off is not human but is nevertheless willful.
though not as silent as air, each form has a core of bright liquid
or fire-engine red or bright yellow) running through it-a streaming
son amplifying the quiet voice of white. -Apollinaire Scherr
Windows, November 12, 1998
More and Less
This show-“More and Less”- was put up by the artist team
of Kelley and McDonald, installed in a lotsa-color-up-here/less-down-there
pattern of Kelley’s sprightly colored wall pieces and McDonald’s
minimally flavored wall and floor handmades. These paintings on canvas,
collaged wall pouches, sculpted floor pieces, and wall works are all
exhibited together but given breathing space. This reflects a trusting
perspective by the gallery’s owners, Jim Smith and Rob Clifford,
that makes for a good model for other galleries.
The installation-two seemingly disparate kinds of art shown together
in both rooms- is a risky yet engaging one. Kelley and McDonald were
once teacher and student at the Museum School, respectively, and though
their work seems unrelated, I spoke with them briefly about the show
and the relationships they may see.
While Kelley speaks of games, comics, and a certain “non-preciousness” he
is after, McDonald alludes to Buddhist ceremonial gardens and the object’s
color occurring naturally and from within. There is a shared concern
with modesty of materials and scale and with the process itself. But,
just as McDonald moves into a reappropriation of spirituality from
the crass web of New Age art, Kelley eloquently states, “At one
point, I thought God was the Incredible Hulk.” Then a certain
smirk alights on each of our faces.
On a recent quiet Sunday, I found it much easier to sit and even
lie on the floor with McDonald’s soft, mottled, whitish forms
resting low on the floor and inching up the wall.
A kind of art-religion
I am intrigued by David McDonald’s coloring of his small sculptures
by “natural” means. In one tuber-like shaft sprouting from
the polyurethaned floor, a center has been carved out and then filled
with various pigments, a shiny ochre topping the off. But the invisible
color in the center tunnel has a function: it leaks outward through
the white plaster, spreading light stains of lemon yellow on the bony
outside. This seems a very personal kind of art-religion, in which
this Moses makes his won complex commandments, imitating the laws of
atmosphere and organic life. The irony of McDonald’s natural
law is that he uses a bevy of chemically enhanced construction materials
to form his objects of contemplation. A witches brew of hydrocal, bentonite,
putty, Styrofoam, paint, and emulsion has become “Untitled 98-18,” giving
me pause to consider the metaphysical effects of working with art
This bumpy and hand-thrown piece is the sum of a larger clay pot
form with a smaller drum-like pot of pumice gray sitting atop the
vessel, forming an empty moat where the top and bottom meet. We
can revere this flat, empty space and dream up a tribal rite being
a fresh concoction of herbs sliced and diced on top of someone’s
crinkly hands holding this gravity-laden connection to the earth.
There is a mini-population of flat tops amongst the floor pieces
the most skyward of places may hold the remnant plane of geological
Untitled 98-16” is the largest of McDonald’s pieces,
a tower-like mound that stands nearly toddler tall. It slyly resembles
a four-sided pyramid but has none of its sharp, angular pretensions
to be a direct route to the heavens. There are no crisp edges here
except the skeletal slats of wood left uncovered that reveal this
be a thoroughly human creation. It is a huggable house-without-a-door,
an accessible and simple reference to our built world.
Other pieces are positioned lie sacred objects high above us on
the wall or close to us at body level. “Formation #4” is constituted
of strange inchworm (or cigar) twins of plaster and green-gray, hung
at least three feet above an average gallery-goer’s height. The
mysterious placement seems a bit forced, too much the artist’s
own secret. This and a few of the smaller pieces don’t have
enough with Lessness to hold me. When he works within an organic-architectural
world where things melt into near-knowable, beautifully nuanced
objects, McDonald is a supreme being.
Weekly, July 17-23, 1998
David McDonald’s floor hugging sculptures and disappearing-into-the-wall
quasi-paintings are as gritty and rough-hewn as Ryan’s drawings are delicate
and limpid; but these blocky pale white chunks of stuff exhibit their own dignity
and, if not elegance, then their own clunky sensuousness. Actually, some of them
do display relatively conventional touches of “beauty,” translucent
plugs of deep, gem-like color set deep into the middle of hydrocal pillows. But
it’s their coarse, weathered quality that makes McDonald’s hods,
and the eccentric shapes attached flush to the wall that look like extrusions,
so delicately poignant. -Peter Frank
Santa Fean, Pasatiempo, May 10, 1996
McDonald’s Content to let the Next Stage Happen.
Last year, David McDonald was installing an exhibition of Richard
Tuttle’s in a Los Angeles gallery. An artist himself, McDonald
relished the opportunity to hang the work by one of his great
It was really a complicated piece,” McDonald said about one
particular work. “On the back Tuttle had written, ‘Hang
15/16ths of a inch apart.’ I thought, why not an inch or
7/8ths or 3/4ths. He had probably tried all sorts of measurements
and that was the one that worked.
It’s odd how Tuttle’s work can look so casual, yet
it’s anything but,” McDonald said. It is in the balance
extremely focused, deliberate and complex.
The same can be said for McDonald’s own pieces, wall and
floor works as he calls them. Seemingly simple pieces carved out
of common construction materials – plaster, wood, architectural
drawing paper – McDonald’s small, delicate work is
fraught with subtle tension between a variety of contradictions
that edges close to quiet resolution.
Pure Land”, an exhibition of McDonald’s newest works,
opens today, May 10, at Charlotte Jackson Fine Arts with an artist’s
reception from 5 to 7p.m. Cleary about process, these pieces
are also infused with a variety of dichotomies that belie their
modesty, between materials, techniques, the interplay between
scale and perception, and controlled randomness.
I am interested in the way that nature is put together, the relationships
between things, the contradictions, the interlocking elements,
the chaos and order, the evolution and transformation of things,
and the effects of time and use,” he said.
McDonald was standing in his unfinished studio in Topanga Canyon,
Calif., recently, considering the work that comprises the show,
is first in Santa Fe. Built by McDonald over a period of time,
his studio is itself a utilitarian reflection of his work – his
artistic materials put to recognizable form and function.
Everywhere wall works were tacked up onto plain, plastered surfaces.
Floor pieces lay seemingly randomly on the floor or leaned up
against the walls. Inspirational photographs hung over his desk – a
Robert Irwin piece, Donald Judd’s bedroom, Brice Marden painting
with a stick. The words, ‘No Mind Mind’ drawn on
Ryman once said that the work should look like anyone can do it,” McDonald
said. “I hope these look easy. But this one took me four
months. That one five,” he said pointing to one of his
You want them to be calm and quiet and to have some energy. To
not be dead on the wall.” But, he said, therein lies the
complex layering, fiddling, experimentation. And, ultimately
intuition to know when enough is enough.
A graduate student of the California Institute of the Arts, a highly
theoretical school, McDonald understand that theory is only imbued
with vitality through process.
The problem with theory is that no one ever makes anything, “ he
said. “I had a theory teacher there who had a baby. Afterwards
he said that having the baby made him doubt theory.”
What McDonald did come away with was a highly critical eye not
only toward a work’s execution, but also toward the ability
to sit and wait. To let the work dictate to him where it needs
to go, “to let the stage happen.”
He uses materials that are commonplace, particularly for him as
he also works as a preparatory of exhibitions for many L.A. galleries.
Eliciting materials into objects that have a life of their own
is elemental to process art.
Techniques is also important for McDonald, working in a manner
that allows both spontaneity and control. “I use a variety
of techniques that allow a level of randomness in the result,” he
Casting is one such technique, for one is never sure exactly what
will come out when the mold is opened.” McDonald frequently
weaves casing material back into the object, which, he said, “allows
some of the history of its making to come forward. Marks, stains
and peelings that are a result of the process become and important
part of the piece.”
McDonald works in small scale with the intent of drawing the
viewer in. “A small scale invites attention,” he said. “When
things are small one must get in close; with small floor work one
must move carefully with awareness in order not to damage the piece.” But
ultimately, it’s the finely choreographed visual, physical
and metaphysical manipulations that drive the work – temporary,
imperfect and vital. As another of his mentors, Agnes Martin wrote: “I
hope I have made it clear that work is about perfection that
we are aware of it in our mind but that the paintings are very
from being perfect –
Completely removed in fact – even as we ourselves are.”
Angeles Times, Thursday, April 27, 1995
Art Reviews: Literary Music
David McDonald’s art conjures what Milan Kundera has called “the
unbearable lightness of being.” There is something literary
in “Trace”, his show at Dan Bernier Gallery. In fact,
McDonald’s attractive and very fragile works are much closer
to musical compositions, especially in terms of their rhythmic
variations upon particular themes.
McDonald pursues many of the gambits availed by Postminimal aesthetics:
repetition and variation, craft and handiwork, ephemerality as
ruling principle. Each piece, composed of several discrete forms
that relate closely to one another, is a series of microcosm.
The standard element is a delicate basswood frame, with a sheet
of semi-transparent Duralene stretched around it. This might be
large of small; it might or might not have a small piece of tracing
paper laid on top of it, affixed with tiny strips of masking tape
or invisible glue; the tracing paper might or might not be covered
with a layer of wax; it might be enlivened with very fine, oil-stick
markings-or not. The other elements of the series, hung alongside,
above or beneath this image/object, improvise within its parameters.
One of the more interesting aspects of McDonald’s work
is its fascination with the moment in which the transparent becomes
the opaque. One piece explores the way in which layers of scotch
tape and tracing paper conceal what lies beneath; another, the
way in which small fragments of white cloth seem to expose their
These are admittedly unassuming conceits. Yet, when the artist
goes for something more substantial the careful balance McDonald
sets up is thrown out of whack. The pictorial nature of the work
militates against issues like mass, volume and space.
This kind of miscalculation suggests that the artist is still somewhat
tentative about his strengths. He need not be. His work is compelling
when it eschews the matter-of-fact realities of the object and
addresses the everyday deceptions of the image. -Susan Kandel
LA Weekly, April 7, 1995
Art Picks of the Week
After Bergamot comes “Bergamette,” the unofficial name
for the still-new cluster of (so far) four galleries at the nether
end of Santa Monica’s industrial east side. The prevailing
flavor here, though, is the diffident insouciance associated
with Food House
(itself currently in limbo).
David McDonald’s new work, conflating sculpture and
drawing, realizes an improbable fusion of delicacy and near-invisibility
with great density and heft. This dualism shows emphatically
in the two
rows of near-tissue-paper pieces stretched over light wood
bars leaning on the floor against shin-high concrete barriers.
positions opaque panels next to transparent ones, draws sparingly
on translucent pages affixed to the wall, suspends membranes
on flimsy-seeming armatures, and generally plays with a Zen-post-minimal
Only a year ago McDonald was showing squat, obdurate plywood-plaster
platforms in a similar, but much more aggressive, investigation
of self-effacement. The current work replaces such droll
with a tender charm.-Peter Frank
Art Quarterly, Fall 1992
Labors of Love
On a parallel course, David McDonald’s first solo exhibit was
humbly and appropriately entitled “Plain”. Although more
related to the Protestant work ethic and sensibility, McDonald’s
serene grouping of fourteen utilitarian objects not only addressed
the merits of the work itself, but honored those who truly labor.
The pieces themselves float between functional (possibly domestic)
objects and minimal sculpture. Constructed of modest and familiar
materials like plaster and second-hand plywood, the unobtrusively
filled the vast and airy gallery comprising an installation that
invoked the sublime. Each individual piece beckons close observations
as well, however, and offers in return the antidote of a devotional
Modest in their scale and presentation, all of McDonald’s untitled
works amount to piles of materials, layered so that they rise from
the floor (or just off the walls) at heights reminiscent of ordinary
footstools. Like stacks of freshly laundered cloths, sheathes of
yellowing documents, or makeshift storage containers, these enigmatic
works imply a history of memory and toil. All the while, the artist
is careful to let the process of his craft show. In a sense, this
show became an observance of labor itself. It was reverently mindful
of a traditional philosophy of “making”, where actual
yield is valued less than the virtue of the simple act of working.
Deeply rooted in early American thought, such an ethos may seem nostalgic,
considering our post-industrial economy, but McDonald gives these
ideas a different spin. By emphasizing the ritual of his own activity,
he projects a stance that can outlive the trend of 1990’s
moderation. He demonstrates the restorative power of contemplation
Within a secularized vernacular, McDonald joins Roarke in pursuit
of human redemption. -Timothy Nolan