An antidote to the pictures Hollywood is making.
Tacita Dean doesn't go much to movies. "Hollywood bores me," she says. That comes as a surprise, since Dean has used old-fashioned film stock and projectors to make some of our era's best art. (Her first American retrospective is currently in planning at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum.)
Film may be Dean's medium, but she uses it more to paint pictures than to tell stories. She makes landscapes with it. Banewl, from 1999, is an amazing 63-minute contemplation of a solar eclipse, as watched among cows in Cornwall, England. Fernsehturm (German for "TV Tower") reveals the passing scene at a revolving restaurant above Berlin, where Dean lives, and yields insights into the fall of the wall and the urban sublime.
Dean has also done interiors. A recent piece surveys a gallery of sculptures by Joseph Beuys by showing only the empty walls of the rooms they're displayed in. That's typical of Dean's crabwise approach—her films examine a subject without simply revealing it. "They're not that informative; they're more observational, about depiction," she says. Dean achieves what I call the Cézanne Effect: the ability to take a seemingly straightforward look at the world and make it have unending depth.
Dean was born in 1965, into the middle class in the tidy British county of Kent. "Art was an escape from how I was raised," she says, explaining how she fled to art school in Cornwall "to be very far away from Kent."
One fact of Dean's biography may be a red herring in explaining her art: her grandfather was one of the founders of Ealing film studios, though Dean says that was barely relevant to her upbringing.
Another detail may be significant, but more delicate—Dean has long suffered from almost disabling arthritis. She doesn't want to be known as an artist of illness ("It's like Roosevelt and his wheelchair"), but acknowledges that the stately tone of her work could be linked to her health. "I plod through the world slightly slower than everyone else."