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Tacita Dean's new film portraits go on display for the first time in National Portrait Gallery exhibition
Stephen Dillane, Ben Whishaw and David Warner viewing His Picture in Little, 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery, photograph by Jorge Herrera.

LONDON.- Two new film portraits depicting actors Stephen Dillane, David Warner and Ben Whishaw by artist Tacita Dean have gone on public display for the first time in a major new exhibition Tacita Dean: PORTRAIT at the National Portrait Gallery, London opening on Thursday 15 March. The exhibition is part of an unprecedented collaboration between the National Portrait Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts and the National Gallery: LANDSCAPE, PORTRAIT, STILL LIFE. The three exhibitions are shaped by Dean’s response to the individual character of each institution and explore genres traditionally associated with painting.

Borrowing its title from a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, His Picture in Little (2017) depicts three actors of different generations, David Warner, Stephen Dillane and Ben Whishaw, all of whom have played the Danish prince on the London stage. The anamorphic film is miniature in scale and was conceived in dialogue with the National Portrait Gallery’s collection of late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century portrait miniatures. The work is displayed within the Gallery’s Collection, among a group of works that provide a glimpse of the context in which miniatures were created, through reference to their function and patronage, and their traces in the imaginative world of the English Renaissance. The selection includes works by the foremost practitioners of the art of miniature painting in England, Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver, and portraits of writers, such as William Shakespeare and John Donne, who wove miniatures into contemporary culture through references in their plays and poems.

Through the use of specially created stencils that slip inside the camera’s aperture gate and expose different parts of the film frame, Dean was able to invite the actors in His Picture in Little to sit side-by-side without them ever having necessarily met. The artist uses the same technique, first developed for FILM (2011), in her second new film, Providence (2017), a portrait of David Warner with humming birds displayed in the main exhibition space. Here Dean creates a dialogue between the actor and a hummingbird in one frame, uniting them photochemically as they have never been united in life.

Tacita Dean said: “By masking and then revealing parts of the aperture gate to light I have found a way to bring together disparate people, places and events. The photochemical film frame is therefore a magical place of pictorial intimacy where one is bound together by chemistry. Applied to portraiture, it is the ultimate miniature, where the finest execution of medium can indeed stand up to the closest inspection. But it is what this blind co-habitation in the film frame does to the individual and collective behaviour that elicits the greatest pleasure. In His Picture in Little, we see three actors, three generations, three men each filmed alone in his own space but nonetheless in the company of his peers.”

Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London said: “We are excited to show for the first time two new films by Tacita Dean, Providence and His Picture in Little as part of our Tacita Dean: PORTRAIT exhibition. The latter is a direct response to the Gallery’s holdings of Elizabethan and Jacobean portrait miniatures, and we are delighted to be able to be able to display Tacita Dean’s own miniature alongside some of the finest examples of late sixteenth and early seventeenth-century portrait miniatures from our Collection.”

Tacita Dean: PORTRAIT (15 March - 28 May 2018) at the National Portrait Gallery focuses on portraiture primarily through the medium of 16mm film. This exhibition is the first in the Gallery’s history to be devoted to the medium of film, and also reveals the artist’s own longstanding and personal interest in portraiture as a genre. Works on display include Dean’s films of influential figures such as her major six-screen installation with Merce Cunningham in Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS… (six performances, six films) (2008), alongside her film of Claes Oldenburg in Manhattan Mouse Museum (2011) and her film diptych of Julie Mehretu GDGDA (2011), all previously unseen in the UK, as well as Mario Merz (2002), Michael Hamburger (2007), Cy Twombly in Edwin Parker (2011), and David Hockney in Portraits (2016). Also on show for the first time in the UK are two photographic works: GAETA (fifty photographs plus one) (2015), taken in the studio of Cy Twombly and The Line of Fate with Leo Steinberg. Dean has also made two new films, Providence, for the exhibition, and His Picture in Little, made specifically for presentation within the Gallery’s permanent collection.

Tacita Dean (b.1965) is a British European artist based in Berlin and Los Angeles who works with many mediums but primarily in film. Dean first came to prominence in the 1990s and is now considered to be one of the most influential artists working today. She was elected a Royal Academician in 2008. As Adrian Searle wrote for the Kurt Schwitters Prize Jury statement, awarded to Dean in 2009: ‘Dean’s films, drawings and other works are extremely original. Her films express something that neither painting nor photography can capture. They are purely film. And while Dean can appreciate the past, her art avoids any kind of academic approach. Her art is carried by a sense of history, time and place, light quality and the essence of film itself. The focus of her subtle but ambitious work is the truth of the moment, the film as a medium and the sensibilities of the individual.’

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