Oka Doner

Born in 1945, Miami Beach, FL
Lives and works in New York, NY

Year created:
Polymastia, Michele Oka Doner
Click images for larger view
Cast bronze
Lent by the Artist and Marlborough Gallery, New York, NY, Made possible by the generosity of the Robert E. Davoli and Eileen L. McDonagh Charitable Foundation

No longer on view.

Michele Oka Doner's life-sized bronze sculptures, Woman Alive and Polymastia, have organic, perforated surfaces that appear as natural outgrowths, rather than carefully cast constructions. Woman Alive is a hollow figure formed of lumpy, though gracefully entwined, appendages. Polymastia (a type of sea sponge) has a prickly exterior that is recognizably coral. Both figures seem to be simultaneously growing and wearing away. They are missing heads and arms, giving them a ruined look similar to ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. Yet their grotesque, bulging forms have barely decipherable legs, thighs and shoulders, as if their distinguishing features have capitulated to uncontrolled growth or decay.

Oka Doner's art explores organic forms, cycles of life and death, and the primordial relationship between humans and nature. Her investigation of the figure began with her small, porcelain, "tattooed" dolls from the 1960s and ceramic human bones from the 1970s. Woman Alive and Polymastia reference the history of ancient figural sculpture—from pre-historic female figurines to the contrapposto posture of Classical Greek sculpture. The aquatic females also suggest the life, death and regeneration of coral polyps, which grow on the skeletons of their predecessors. Oka Doner has cast dozens of life-size figures inspired by ocean coral within the last ten years. Surprisingly, she does not create these intricate figures by making molds of real ocean life. Instead, she adds melted wax to an armature to create the overall shape of the sculpture. Then she uses a heat gun and a knife to carve the structure while she continues to add wax. A foundry casts the completed wax mold into bronze.

Michele Oka Doner grew up in Miami Beach, Florida. Her childhood relationship with the ocean developed into an enduring theme in her art. She received a Bachelors of Science and Design and a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1966 and 1968 respectively. She is well-known for her sculpture, furniture, jewelry, and public art, including a nearly mile-long floor at Miami International Airport called A Walk on the Beach (1992-1999), which is inlaid with bronze aquatic life.

 On Site: August 2010-August 2011