Since the beginning of the year, London has been the site of pioneering exhibitions, history-making partnerships, and remarkable institutional expansions. In an unprecedented collaboration, the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Academy of Arts in London are presenting three simultaneous solo exhibitions with Tacita Dean where she acts as both artist and curator. To coincide with the opening of LANDSCAPE—the final installment in Dean’s trilogy of shows—acclaimed architect Sir David Chipperfield’s impressive redevelopment of the Royal Academy was also unveiled to the public last week.
The £56 million revamp of the Royal Academy means 70% more space for the public, a new lecture theater and a bridge which conjoins the two-acre campus. The transformation, in celebration of the Mayfair institution’s 250-year anniversary, will mean it can fully display its world-class collection as well as provide increased room for its iconic debates. Chipperfield’s new and improved Royal Academy also provides an appropriately reinvigorated backdrop in which to meditate on the rich beauty of Tacita Dean’s playful and immersive landscapes.
Born in Canterbury, UK, in 1965, Dean was initially associated with the Young British Artist movement that dominated the London art scene in the late 80s and 90s. Her retreat from YBA’s use of shock tactics, however, quickly distanced her from her contemporaries. While Damien Hirst filled tanks with sharks and cows and Tracey Emin pulled her messy bed into the gallery, Dean focused on creating delicate, tender and rich analogue films and photographs. Her works, which also include drawings and sounds, are poetic, distinctive and multi-layered—often depicting cityscapes, the movement of the sea and the setting of the sun. Her painterly films contemplate the poignancy of passing time, allowing her to capture and preserve relics and moments from the past.
The notion of landscape has dominated much of Tacita Dean’s work and also reflects personal feelings of uncertainty that have persisted throughout her life. The artist consistently describes her difficult relationship with her home country—which has become heightened recently—and chooses to refer to herself as a “British European artist.” She relocated to Berlin in 2000 but frequently travels to Los Angeles and London. At times, the work in the Royal Academy reflects her biography, exploring her own inner landscape. Triptychs of clouds suitably titled Bless Our Europe and Where England? are exhibited and encompass her feelings of detachment from her country of origin.
LANDSCAPE also includes the artist’s childhood collection of natural found objects, chalk drawings of mountains, and a work by British surrealist Paul Nash. The center piece of the show is an epic hour-long film titled Antigone. Named after Dean’s sister, the 35mm film meanders through different landscape scenes and possesses a complexity that is impossible to condense into just a few words. Twisted trees, dreamy sunsets and eclipses of the sun fill the monumental screen in an overlay of typically Dean-esque and juxtaposed fragments.
In conjunction with the Royal Academy, Niels Borch Jensen Gallery is also showing Tacita Dean’s photogravure Quarantania at their gallery space in Berlin. The technical complexity and scale of this work make it one of the artist’s most ambitious projects to date. Created specifically for her London exhibitions, Quarantania depicts The Mount of Temptation, the Biblical site where Jesus was enticed by the Devil after his forty days of fasting. Through this arresting and immersive landscape scene, Dean aimed to capture the delusions of power that existed in the Biblical past and continue to pervade our present day political reality. Quarantania perfectly encompasses the artist’s fascination with the transience of time and is a suitable substitute for anyone not able to visit the enthralling Royal Academy show and new revamp.
By Jess Harrison