Mixing ballet and art yields inspiring new Mudam show
Lovers of the stage are in for a treat at the Mudam, which is showing the sets and costumes acclaimed artist Tacita Dean designed for the Royal Opera House’s Dante Project ballet. The fruit of Dean’s labour is magnificent, including music, film and vintage photography.
Dean, – born in Canterbury in 1965 - has made a name for herself using different mediums. For the 2021 ballet about Dante’s journey into the underworld, she chose a different one for each act. Her huge, immersive pieces portray the different phases of the journey.
“Inferno”, for instance, is shown on a blackboard with chalk, an inverted mountain range in black and white, annotated with inscriptions. It is her largest such drawing to date. Smaller renderings show vintage photographs narrating the journey, with hell ranging from “Satan” to “Getting older”.
“Purgatorio” uses photography and pencil drawings, large film prints in eerie colours that depict city streets lined with trees and cars in traffic. The prints are negatives, so that violet flowers turn into “an other-worldly green”, as a description provided at the exhibition puts it.
Music coming from a room dedicated to “Paradiso” livens up the exhibition and adds to the feeling of having walked onto the stage of the ballet, with only the dancers missing. It is the actual soundtrack of the ballet, which accompanies a 35-millimetre film about the last station of Dante’s voyage.
It is a hypnotising work, bursting with colour “taken from the palette of William Blake,” as the curators put it. It is the first time the film is shown outside of the ballet. The corridor leading in and out of the wing where the exhibition is shown is adorned with stills from the film: huge colourful orbs that feel like they will absorb you if you stare at them for too long.
The second part of the exhibition, which continues into the museum’s West wing, treats the viewer to pleasing images of clouds on all the walls. These pictures are small, square-shaped, and represent Dean’s delight at seeing the skies in Los Angeles. But while you have seen these pink clouds and blue skies reproduced online countless times, Dean adds a distinct artistic touch.
Do not be fooled: these works are not photographs. The cotton-candy clouds are hand-drawn lithographs, while the clouds in black and white are made with spray chalk, gouache and charcoal pencil.
The centre of the gallery shows a conversation between two artists, Luchita Hurtado and Julie Mehretu, which Dean has filmed. The 16mm film, “One Hundred and Fifty Years of Painting'', is both intimate and revelatory, and you should not skip it. The conversation provides insight into the works by these two artists, which are displayed alongside the film.
The final work in the comprehensive exhibition is a fantastic old-school projector portraying frescoes by Giotto, which Dean has filmed in close detail. It is a worthy finale to an exhibition that brings together inspiration, calmness, shared knowledge, and community through various mediums.
“I feel very strongly that my work is connected to something else in me that I don’t understand” - a phrase uttered by Luchita Hurtado- lingers in the mind long after leaving the exhibition.
The "Tacita Dean" solo exhibition is at the Mudam until 5 February 2023.