Tacita Dean: Still Life at the National Gallery
Tacita Dean is having a London moment: this Spring, the Royal Academy, National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery have come together in an “unprecedented collaboration” to host a three-part exhibition devoted to the contemporary artist, split into three sections: landscape, portrait and still life.
The latter two shows are being hosted simultaneously, and while the National Portrait Gallery is showing a more traditional overview of Dean’s filmic portraits, its next-door neighbour offers a less conventional format, with the artist curating a selection of “still life” compositions to show alongside three of her own video works.
The display is free to visit, and it contains some beautiful pieces. A 16th-century painting of a sparrowhawk is shown alongside a double photograph of an owl by Roni Horn and Dean’s own video of a bird sitting on a telephone wire. It’s a powerful trio of images, but it’s hard to see how it connects to the concept of still life as a genre. The first two works feature life that has been stilled, captured motionless by the brush and the lens. But then Dean’s video is not still but moving, even though the bird doesn’t fly away from the wire.
Dean is trying to demonstrate that the boundaries of artistic genres can be pushed, bent and broken, but it feels like she is trying to do it in so many directions that the reason for naming the display Still Life seems to get lost.
The pairings the video artist chooses are sensitive and thought-provoking, creating interesting dialogues and visual narratives. However, the display arguably loses sight of what it is trying to achieve, especially when seen in connection with her film portraits on view next door at the National Portrait Gallery.
Featured Image: Tacita Dean, Prisoner Pair, 2008
Tacita Dean: Still Life is at the National Gallery from 15th March until 28th May 2018. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.