Articles and Reviews

Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2012, Edge of a New Frontier

The centripetal abstract sculptures in David McDonald's "Self Portraits" sit on the floor. They are agglomerations, about a yard tall, of unglamorous materials (cement, scrap wood, rebar, wire) with a vertical-dare we say phallic?-core. You look down at them as you would at friendly dogs. Good, concise sculpture is relatively rare these days, and Mr. McDonald succeeds by taking a risk with physical modesty. His pieces aren't flashy, but are astutely assembled and intriguing in their confined manner. But are these "self portraits" really, as the gallery claims, his "most personal" works? He deserves the benefit of the doubt. -Peter Plagens

Notes on Looking, February 15, 2012, David McDonald at Carter & Citizen

Sculpture #1, first on the right: i see flooring, and of course the rebar poles, but flooring seems important to all of the works on display. In the case of "Self Portrait (Underground Self)" the flooring lines the top of a chimney structure which grazes (just!) and also makes gaps with...What is this? Are these ghosts? These lumpy tubular plaster shapes appear in each of David McDonald's sculptures. What is it they remind me of? Extra-terrestrial fungi? Zapp Comix era R. Crumb figures? Dunno.
The sculptures appear to be not so much fragmented as composed of fragments-made from parts of other wholes.
I dispute that these are McDonald's first essays in self portraiture. I have thought that this artist's sculptures resemble nothing so much as himself since 2001, when I first spent a great deal of time looking at his work. I could make useless and speculative psychological connections to modesty (of size and materials) and to tonal restraint, but much better to consider the tenacity of his small objects and their survival in this world, and how over the years they have dominated much larger conversations than themselves. Tenacious then, and also considered: for to spend a decade working out one 11" tall object (as I know McDonald to have done) requires deliberate focus and awareness of a world of possibilities before one makes three or four simple choices. Shocking really, such quiet choices in this loud world.
Exposure and enclosure happen again and again in these new sculptures. The enclosures, while elaborate, are almost foolhardy and must know they are destined to fail, to not protect nor isolate their hearts. This double revealing-of exhibition and of breaking away the shield in his sculptures-is an anti-reticence that turns McDonald's exposure into presentation, and this act of self-conscious presentation brings us back from our brink of psychology to art: it includes the possibility of a personal reading and it expands outward to comment on the human condition.
Post Script
I encourage you to visit this exhibition during this, its final week. And when you do-pay attention to the choices that David McDonald makes. there is not one surface or material or shape used but what it needs to be so, and if the artist uses paint then you should think about the history of this material and why he might want you to see it in that place. Check out "Self Portrait (Up Self)" and note the slight coloring to the top and back of the plank that represents the "up" in the title. Do you see light reflecting off the surface of a wall? Or do you see a surface that is painted a slight shade from the color of the original surface? Te reds in "Self Portrait (Underground Self)" are several and one red is covered over with lovely strokes of mocha or navajo white. The chicken wire in "Self Portrait (Visible Self)" is desperate to serve its purpose, it scrambles and it takes the several forms that such fencing can take. What purpose is served? At the back is a partial enclosure of plywood crescents. A sheet of Fin-ply was painted an amazing blue, cerulean even, then cut and glued in a shaky stack. This is a thing that having seen I will not forget. It is lovely and it feels honest.
Like a conversation with a stranger in another language, I cannot comprehend the words in use here, but I can understand the expressions that pass like flickering light on my con versants face.
I encourage you also to look at the small painted wall objects. They are successful in their way but feel precious to me, where the sculpture feels brave. There is a conversation of material concerns back forth between the two bodies of work, and I value seeing them together. This is the way or eye learns, the back and forth between objects and the internal dialogue we have while looking. I may see magnificence and I may sometimes find things wanting-initially these judgements are intuitive, and slowly, slowly they become informed by comparing and contrasting. Over years we learn. Having such an opportunity with one artist's work is why solo exhibitions are so important.
David McDonald has been working seriously at his craft, making choices and taking risks for more than fifteen years. It would be a shame for you to miss this chance to study and learn. -Geoff Tuck

LA Times, January 19, 2012, David McDonald at Carter & Citizen

David McDonald's characterization of his solo show at Carter & Citizen as a collection of self-portraits would seem to mark a curious turn for an artist whose committedley abstract paintings and sculptures have long resisted narrative implications. His is that rare brand of abstraction that feels convincingly organic: neither secretly symbolic nor aspiringly decorative; capable of drawing true poetic meaning from the conscientious arrangement of things in themselves-paint, wood, ceramic, cement; circles, squares, lines and curves.
None of that has changed in the current work. In fact, if the term "self-portrait" didn't appear in the title, it wouldn't likely come to mind at first. Low to the ground and modest in size, composed or raw and painted wood and cement primarily, the sculptures fall clearly in the vein of McDonald's other recent work, but for the addition of a single central element in each: a slender, enamel coated cement column, sheltered or exposed to varying degrees by a host of other fragmentary elements. Gangly, awkward, conspicuously solitary and thus poignantly vulnerable, the columns act as surrogates for a self that might just as well belong to viewer as artist.
Paired with a handful of small, wall mounted, collage-like pieces that are made primarily from chips of dried paint and also evoke vaguely anthropomorphic associations, the work has a quality of tenderness not lacking in the previous work but merely extended here in a new direction: toward a more explicit exploration of the human condition. - Holly Myers

art LTD, March, 2012, David McDonald: "Self Portraits" at Carter & Citizen

David McDonald makes modest and unassuming sculptures from low tech materials that command attention. Carefully arranged in the small space are five human-scaled floor sculptures presented in conjunction with five small wall works, each an amalgamation of found elements that work in concert with each other. The wall works, titled Fractures, (all works 2011), are arrangements of chips of paint and concrete collaged together on colored backgrounds; they call to mind fragments of a shattered world map, carefully pieced together. McDonald makes wholes from found parts giving new life to what would otherwise be discarded. His ingenious way of conjoining disparate materials emphasizes not only their formal qualities, but also how the formal is linked to the conceptual. The floor sculptures are self portraits whose titles reference different aspects of the self, a self that is quiet and unassuming but assertive when it needs to be.
Each sculpture contains a painted cylindrical element that manatees from a concrete base. In Self Portrait (Protected Self) it is a red shape that is encased in unpainted cement and tipped with a wooden box-like structure. Bits of discarded wood painted in pastel colors are gathered near its top, while the rebar that holds the piece together sticks out from the base. McDonald does not mask his process or apologize for his choice of materials; indeed, his commitment to making art from building materials gives his work a sense of purpose. Self Portrait (Visible Self) combines stacked shapes of curved wood with light blue painted tops alongside a vertical cylinder painted a glossy white. This entire assemblage is surrounded by white metal fencing like what would used to create a small chicken coop: the visible self becomes partially hidden or protected. Self Portrait (Underground Self) couples a stack of small square wooden boxes with a white cylindrical shape grounded to a concrete base. Poles of rebar of different heights, each with a red dot on top, protrude from its base while simultaneously extending out across the floor.
There is an initial awkwardness to these sculptures that soon disappears as one realizes there is nothing arbitrary about their construction. They infuse building materials with grace and through their enigmatic titles, suggest how rough materials can sign for emotional states. The sculptures are among McDonald's most personal, yet are also iconic. The juxtaposition of the fragile Fractures and the sturdy Self Portraits articulate the myriad contradictions within a self that are brought to light through the sensitivity of McDonald's construction.
-Jody Zellen

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 back room, 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 post-minimalist 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

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 geometry, 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

LA 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

LA 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 floor bound 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 Frank

From Idea to Matter: Some Thoughts on Sculpture - 2000

The illusion versus the real: this represents the fundamental difference between 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 reality.
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 viewer 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 none 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 their years.

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 of representation itself.
Oh, and furthermore, the work is tough and demanding and thrilling and absolutely beautiful. -Edward Albee

Express, 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 objects.
The soft-surfaced cement column, tombstone-like blocks, upside down cone, and small green-veined rectangles attached to the walls awaken 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. Muffled, though not as silent as air, each form has a core of bright liquid paint (turquoise or fire-engine red or bright yellow) running through it-a streaming son amplifying the quiet voice of white. -Apollinaire Scherr

Bay 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 hand mades. 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 re-appropriation 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 material fumes.

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 larger 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 performed, 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 here, where the most skyward of places may hold the remnant plane of geological site.

“ 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 to 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.

LA 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

The 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 mentors.

“ 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. Clearly about process, these pieces are also infused with a variety of dichotomies that belie their apparent 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 duraleen.
“ 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 smallest pieces.

“ 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 said.

“ 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 far from being perfect –

Completely removed in fact – even as we ourselves are.”
-Lis Bensley

Los 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 Post-minimal 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 wooden supports.

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. Elsewhere McDonald 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 not-there-ness. 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 contrariness with a tender charm.-Peter Frank

Visions 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 entity.

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 and endurance. Within a secularized vernacular, McDonald joins Roarke in pursuit of human redemption. -Timothy Nolan