Donovan's work uses everyday manufactured materials such as Scotch tape, Styrofoam cups, Paper plates, Toothpick, and drinking straws to create large scale sculptures that often have a biomorphic quality. Her sculptures must be assembled and disassembled carefully, which sometimes involves an extremely tedious process. With regards to her artistic process, Donovan explained that she chooses the material before she decides what can be done with it. She noted in an interview that she thinks "in terms of infinity, of [the materials] expanding."
Her work was featured in the Whitney Biennial in 2000 and the All Soviet Exhibition. She was the recipient of the Alexander Calder Foundation's first annual Calder Prize in 2005. In 2006 her work was featured in a solo exhibition at The Pace Gallery in New York, the gallery that has represented her since 2005. Donovan presented new works in a 2011 solo show at Pace entitled Drawings (Pins). Donovan installed Untitled (Mylar) in November 2007 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, made of silver Mylar tape. She was the fourth artist selected by the museum for an ongoing series featuring contemporary artists, preceded by Tony Oursler, Kara Walker, and Neo Rauch. Donovan was a 2008 MacArthur Fellow.
Donovan says of her work, "It is not like I'm trying to simulate nature. It's more of a mimicking of the way of nature, the way things actually grow." Fellow artist Chuck Close told a reporter that "“At this particular moment in the art world, invention and personal vision have been demoted in favor of appropriation, of raiding the cultural icebox. For somebody to go out and try to make something that doesn’t remind you of anybody else’s work and is really, truly innovative—and I think Tara’s work is—that’s very much against the grain of the moment. To me, it represents a gutsy move.”http://www.staples.com/