Dull And Duller: A Double Header Of Dreary Art From Tacita Dean

Tacita Dean, National Portrait Gallery & National Gallery ★☆☆☆☆

Dull And Duller: A Double Header Of Dreary Art From Tacita Dean Tacita Dean, National Portrait Gallery & National Gallery 1
We get to see a lot of Hockney, but in most of it he does very little. Photograph: Mathew Hale/Courtesy the artist; Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

A film plays of David Hockney wandering about his studio, flicking through pages and smoking a cigarette before dropping it onto the floor and stubbing it out underfoot. We eagerly wait for the video to build to a pivotal moment, but it doesn't — this is it? It's filmed in the lead up to Hockney's 82 portraits and 1 still life show, which was awful, but even that car crash looks good compared to this show.

Artist Tacita Dean has taken over spaces at National Portrait Gallery and next door at The National Gallery. It's an unprecedented double header with the Portrait Gallery hosting the bigger exhibition containing many video works.

British poet Michael Hamburger at his home just. Photograph: Courtesy the artist; Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

Much like the Hockney video we also see creator of giant artworks Claes Oldenburg re-arranging items on a shelf. Artist Mario Merz wanders around their garden, while Julie Mehretu creates an artwork — the latter is still dull but compared to the other films it's a Michael Bay-esque action film.

Tacita Dean's 'artist stalker' films don't reveal anything about the artists, other than the fact they lead pretty mundane lives most of the time, just like everyone else. No surprise there. Maybe she'd like to film us eating a Pret sandwich.

The one video that had some merit, where Merce Cunningham sits still for 4 minutes and 33 seconds in homage to his former lover John Cage. Copyright: Courtesy the artist; Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

Yes artists can be interesting people, but most of the time they're not — this isn't some major revelation. Just because people love watching Usain Bolt race, doesn't mean they want to see him brushing his teeth or ironing.

The only item here that piqued a little interest was a video of Merce Cunningham paying homage to his former lover John Cage's seminal 4'33" work by sitting in silence for the same amount of time. Though this alone can't save a pretentious and downright awful exhibition.

Actors get the 'being observed while doing nothing treatment' too. Photograph: Courtesy the artist; Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

Just to drive home how disconnected this show feels, all her videos are on old school 16mm and 35mm films seemingly for no reason other than she likes the old mediums. Dean's probably the kind of hipster artist who only listens to vinyl and carries round a Nokia 3210.

It's not all video, however. There's a series of photos of close ups of a random chunks of artist Cy Twombly's studio, photography proving to be just another medium where Tacita Dean is adept at boring to the point of frustration.

The dreariness continues at The National Gallery. Photograph: Courtesy the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York/Paris

The two-room show over at The National Gallery offers a slight reprieve in that it's not just Tacita Dean's work, but also pieces selected by her. It's a cross section of still life works from across the centuries but it's another show where the artist knows what she's trying to say, but leaves the viewer out of the equation.

We can see that one of Tacita Dean's works by itself may be interesting, but two whole exhibitions is a chore to get through. It's a shining example of the self-absorbed inaccessible style that gives contemporary art a bad name.

It's still life but not as we know it, with Roni Horn's owls. © Roni Horn, courtesy Hauser & Wirth, London / Photo: Archive Hauser & Wirth Collection, Switzerland

It's only March but we've already found our worst show of the year. We were looking forward to the opening of the new wing of the Royal Academy, but knowing it will feature part three of this show, our anticipation has melted to dread.

This show is so dire we'd like to offer an apology for having recommended it as one to see for 2018. The ambitious plan to exhibit in three galleries was exciting, but the work can't live up to that concept.

Tacita Dean: Portrait is on at National Portrait Gallery, tickets are £14 for adults. Tacita Dean: Still Life is on at The National Gallery and is free to visit. Both exhibitions run until 28 May.

Last Updated 20 March 2018