Tacita Dean: Landscape, Royal Academy of Arts, ★★★★★
The landmark collaboration between The National Gallery, The NPG and The RA explores Tacita Dean's versatility and extraordinary talent
The National Galley, The National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts are all hosting exhibitions of Dean's work that reflect a different facet of her oeuvre: Still Life, Portraits and Landscape respectively. The final of the trio of exhibitions, Tacita Dean: Landscape, is a monumental ode to landscape painting, a genre once championed by early Royal Academicians including Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner. Tacita Dean: Landscape inaugurates the New RA, as part of the Royal Academy of Arts 250 year anniversary celebrations, with formidable glory. Dean, for her part, lives up to this unprecedented honour, presenting work as ground-breaking as the event itself.
Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS... in Tacita dean: PORTRAIT
Curated by Tacita Dean herself, Tacita Dean: STILL LIFE at the National Gallery presents a diverse mix of still life works spanning six centuries. The intention is to look at still life with new eyes: for example a traditional 19th century painting of apples is placed next to Dean’s own Prisoner Pair 2008, a film showing apples submerged in schnapps. Throughout the gallery, art is placed in new and exciting combinations as the physical arrangement of the work illuminates and reflects upon the idea of still life. There is no explanatory text – the viewer is invited to make their own connections and conclusions throughout.
Coinciding with the National Gallery's still life exhibition, The National Portrait Gallery are staging Tacita Dean: PORTRAIT. This explores the artist’s experimentation with portraiture, primarily through the medium of 16mm film. The nature of the ensures that the portraits feel as though they are living, which is completely opposite to the usual stillness of portraiture.
In the NPG's first exhibition devoted to film, the gallery is set up like a series of mini cinemas. Dean uses non-digital cameras, these are present in the dark rooms as we wander through the exhibition – they are a reminder of the medium itself.
Tacita Dean: Landscape, Royal Academy of Arts. Installation shot. c. Culture Whisper.
Make sure to see Dean's major six-screen installation starring Merce Cunningham in Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS… where viewers walk among the screens which all show Cunningham from different angles. This unique experience makes us feel as though the portrait is three dimensional. Another triumph is Portraits (2016) which depicts artist David Hockey chain-smoking cigarettes. The realness captured by this image is reinforced by Hockney’s occasional bursts of laughter.
The final part of the trio of exhibitions is Tacita Dean: LANDSCAPE, opening at the Royal Academy on 19 May. Inaugurating the new Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, the exhibition exemplifies Tacita Dean's versatility and extraordinary talent. Opening this intimate but glorious exhibition is a mixture of early and new work that focuses on Dean's relationship to the world around her. Her monumental blackboard drawings, and her new series of slate cloud drawings, that open the exhibition, cast a fresh light on the medium. From erupting volcanoes to a vivid photogravure of the ancient mountain Quarantania, it's clear that atmosphere, condition and light are as important to Dean as the subject itself.
Closing the exhibition is Antigone, Dean’s most ambitions quasi-narrative 35mm film diptych to date. From the moorlands of Cornwall to the post-industrial Mississippi flood plains, Dean combines vastly different landscapes within a single cinematographic image. The film, which takes the eponymous heroine of Sophocle's Antigone - also the name of Dean's sister - as its heroine, tackles the idea of blindness, and is, Dean claims a 'mediation on Antigone and Oedipus' flight into the wilderness'. With a running time of 56 minutes,
Antigone is a masterpiece that merits your patience and time.
The lofty, luminous space of the RA's new galleries provide a serene backdrop to Dean's landscapes that incorporate elements of botany, cosmography, geology, natural phenomena and travel.
2018 is the year for celebrating Tacita Dean: these exhibitions prove that this isn’t a fuss about nothing.
National Gallery: Still Life, 15 March - 28 May 2018
National Portrait Gallery: Portrait, 15 March - 28 May 2018
Royal Academy: Landscape, 19 May - 12 August 2018