‘Still Life’ is one of three Tacita Dean exhibitions across major London institutions this spring (‘Portrait’ at the National Portrait Gallery and ‘Landscape’ at the Royal Academy are the others), but it looks like the National Gallery got the dregs. This isn’t really a Tacita Dean show at all, it’s three Dean films in amongst some paintings and photos she likes. She’s picked a huge Philip Guston vision of a hat, a Walter Sickert work of a dead hare, some Roni Horn owls, a Paul Nash landscape and some old paintings of food and death from the National Gallery collection
Of her own work, one shows pears decomposing solemnly in schnapps, another a bird on a wire and the third depicts an object that belonged to Henry Moore. There’s nothing wrong with any of the art here, but there’s nothing right with it either. The good thing is that the show forces you to look long and slow at the works, to breathe them in and think about how a still life can encompass so much meaning, how it can sway between life and lifelessness, how it can capture a huge amount with so little. But is it any better than any other still life display at the National Gallery? Not really. And in its choice of works, layout and approach it just ends up as a confusing hodge podge of absolutely fine paintings that will leave you nothing but underwhelmed.
Tacita Dean is clearly not interested in adhering to the boundaries of art genres, which is a great thing. But then you can’t help but wonder why these institutions have bothered to separate the work out into genres in the first place. Wouldn’t one huge, all-encompassing show about this massively influential artist have made more sense? You want to see major institutions taking bold steps, but this feels off-balance.