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Tacita Dean’s most recent show at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, … my English breath in foreign clouds, featured new drawings, photos, and films. It was presented in three rooms all cleverly linked throughout the exhibition. Upon entering visitors were welcomed to the main gallery with lithographs, and drawings on blackboards, as well as a small viewing room with the film Portraits (2016), featuring the artist David Hockney. In a small corridor towards the back of the gallery there was another film, Buon Fresco (2014) which was filmed in Italy at the Upper Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, offering an intimate observation of Giotto’s frescos which adorn the church’s walls. Finally, in the back gallery was a collection of photographs taken in Cy Twombly’s home and studio.

Image: Installation view, Tacita Dean, .... my English breath in foreign clouds, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

Dean, who has spent the last 18 months living in Los Angeles (the artist is British, but typically resides in Berlin) was inspired by the very thing she was certain she would not see in California, clouds. The omnipresence of clouds in Los Angeles and their connection to wind rather than rain, interested her.

Image: Tacita Dean, Veteran Too, 2016. Chalkboard paint on hand-printed silver gelatin photograph mounted on paper. 100 x 100 cm. Photo: Alex Yuzdon. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. 

Dean’s A Concordance of Fifty American Clouds, is a documentation of her adventures in cloud watching. All the works feature titles extracted from Shakespeare and pertain to clouds. Upon entering the gallery, it was immediately noticeable that the lithographs formed a fractured horizon line of rich blues and varying swathes of white nebula across the top of the gallery, recreating a romantic airiness that perhaps captivated the artist. Neatly juxtaposed below these floating images were rich and chalky renditions of the same clouds presented as slate drawings. Dean first started making blackboard drawings in the early 90’s, and the artist’s decision to use the medium of chalk on blackboard on this occasion was inspired by the presence of the cloud’s ‘nearly never gray but extremely variable and white’ configurations. She has consistently likened her blackboard works to cinema not only for their large scale but also their high contrast in black and white.

In the adjacent room was a 16mm film featuring the artist David Hockney in his studio in Los Angeles. The film is 16 minutes long and shows Hockney working for a few moments on an upcoming portrait show, then smoking a cigarette (five in fact!). The film is noticeably quiet with very little dialogue and seems to echo the cloud watching ethos of the previous gallery, albeit in this instance accompanied by the sound of Hockney’s in and out breath as he drags on his cigarette. The blue background of his self-portraits and his bright blue sweater are visible behind him, creating another blue horizon within the overall presentation of the exhibition. These parallel ideas seem to compound the longer the film is watched. 

Image: Tacita Dean, Portraits, 2016. 
16mm color film, optical sound; 16 min. Photo: Cathy Carver. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. 

In the South gallery a collection of photographs titled, GAETA, 2015 – Fifty photographs, plus one, were featured. These were taken in Cy Twombly’s home and studio, and are named after the Italian town where he resided. The photographs provide an intimate look in to the work and home life of Twombly. One photograph displays a yellow post-it with writing and scribbles that seems to imitate the familiar loops and patterns that comprise his blackboard paintings (another parallel which links this room back to the first room).

Image: Tacita Dean, GAETA 2015 - Fifty photographs, plus one. 9 hand-printed black and white silver gelatin prints on glossy paper, mounted on paper, 11 hand-printed black and white silver gelatin prints on matte paper, mounted on paper, 12 hand-printed C-prints on matte paper, mounted on paper, 12 hand-printed C-prints on high gloss paper, mounted on dibond, 7 hand-printed Cibachromes. Photo: Alex Yuzdon. Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery. 

Dean has sharply weaved and intertwined a variety of her inspirations and ideas into a new body of work with multiple layers of connection. Her work is consistent in its transitional ability but differs in its context with each show. The works draw on her familiar use of celluloid film to capture subjects in a way that only Dean can. Rosalind Krauss noted during a lecture at the Tate in 2011, that Dean’s work is a ‘refusal to accept the obsolescence of celluloid film as a living medium’. In doing so, Dean beautifully blurs the line between mediums making her films seem more like intimate, living still-life’s and her photos seem more like storyboards. Throughout her exhibition at Marian Goodman Gallery we see the full circle of inspiration translated from drawing, to lithograph, to film. Dean approaches all forms of her work with the same poetic and thoughtful patience never making clear the deliberate from the coincidental. —[O]

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