Donna Dennis Realizes a House of Hope and Despair

Artsy Editorial
Dec 6, 2015 7:00PM

Installation view of “Studies for the Little Tube House and The Night Sky,” at Mixed Greens, New York. Courtesy of Mixed Greens and the artist. Photography by Etienne Frossard. 

Sculptor Donna Dennis’s architecturally inspired compositions allow her to make herself at home wherever she goes. This month, the iconic sculptor, who came to fame during the 1970s for her groundbreaking installations, takes up residence at Mixed Greens with a surreal solo show titled “Studies for Little Tube House and The Night Sky.”

The show opens with a series of moody gouaches, which greet visitors as soon as they enter the second floor gallery. Dennis’s paintings repeat the same surreal landscape: a small white house with thin, limb-like tubes reaching out into the night. Each permutation is slightly different, but eerily the same. The hallucinatory imagery originates from a vision Dennis had of a structure punctured by wires on the shores Lake Superior. It’s this haunting image that Dennis fervently began to render when a young friend passed away unexpectedly. Grounded in the darkness but paradoxically stretching towards infinity, Dennis’s homes simultaneously embody hope and despair. 

At the back of the space, Dennis erects a scaled version of her dreamy fort. Shrouded by a simulated night sky (the walls and ceiling of the gallery have been blacked out), her corrugated house, outfitted with a single bare-bulb, looks like a ghostly lighthouse. As one approaches the sculpture, the darkness thickens and becomes increasingly disorienting. The deprivation of light immediately heightens the viewer’s other senses; as one moves closer, the details come into focus. Illuminated by the light, one can make out the miniscule front entrance, which even if you were petite enough to squeeze through you’d need the key, the metal door is protected by an unmarked lock. Falling somewhere between a dollhouse and a tree house, Dennis’s sculpture has a childlike whimsy that defies its foreboding shadows. 

Upon exiting the show, one is once again confronted with Dennis’s gouaches, which take on new meaning after experiencing the installation. Loneliness is no longer representational, but something that Dennis locates in contemporary time and space. Surprisingly emotional, the exhibition lulls one to take a meditative journey into the unknown. Short but sweet, Dennis’s show encourages one to think more carefully about how loss inhabits the physical realm.

—Kat Herriman

Studies for Little Tube House and The Night Sky,” is on view at Mixed Greens, New York, Nov. 19–Dec. 22, 2015.

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Artsy Editorial