Michele Oka Doner: Decades Past and Future
“There is no divide,” explains Michele Oka Doner on a rainy afternoon in her light-filled Soho loft. “When I get up in the morning, I look over the ledge and think about my work. I like having it around. I like living in it. It feels natural.” This vast space, once part of a former button factory, is where the artist and designer has lived and worked since the early 1980s. In every corner, sculpture and art mingle with found objects, raw materials, and the vestiges of everyday life. Her large black and white works on paper stretch out across a wall, the Burning Bush candelabrum is perched atop a piano, and stones and carvings, along with books and catalogues, speckle her bronze Ice-Ring bench.
Soon, however, many of these pieces along with other works of art will be leaving Doner’s downtown retreat and become part of a private selling exhibition opening November 24 at Christie’s New York. Entitled The Shaman’s Hut, the show will feature roughly ninety objects from the last four decades. “I’ve been working for fifty years and at some point it is nice to release some of the work I’ve held onto to make way for the next decades,” Doner says.
The format of the exhibition will bring her designs together in a setting that is intimate and contextual— in much the way that they’ve existed in her loft. “What we’re going to do is re-create the kind of moment that is here,” she notes. “An exhibition like this allows us to focus on a way of life, and in a sense art is a way of life—of living visually, of living with ceremony. You just see one, two things at auction, you don’t see the interplay between a table and a chair. There is a dialogue that’s established between the objects.”
Doner has a busy year ahead of her, and she will need to make room for the pieces she will be creating for several upcoming exhibitions and projects. Next February or March she will have a solo show of works on paper and her organic bronze figures at the Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea, called “Feasting on Bark.” For it she will return to a subject that has informed much of her work: the natural world. Doner describes the show as a “mise-en-scene” that will explore the myriad ways we “feast,” be it physically, emotionally, or intellectually. She’s also preparing for an exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami and is developing ideas for stage and costume designs. “What is interesting about what we’re doing at Christie’s and at Marlborough is that I am creating a stage set again, and it is not just an object or a thing, but much more of an idea about how we live and how we move through the world,” she says.