Andrew Dickson is a writer and critic for The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. His most recent book is Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare’s Globe (2016). (November 2017)
It has been a remarkable summer for Tacita Dean in Britain. This versatile, genre-defying artist has enjoyed three concurrent retrospectives at the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Royal Academy, three of the biggest art museums in the UK. It is an honor not merely unusual for an artist still in her mid-fifties, but apparently unprecedented. And Dean is not done quite yet. At the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, she is currently offering a kind of coda—one last exhibition for now, which runs until the end of September. It seems to be the final piece of the puzzle, or—to put it another way—an attempt to break back out of the classical constraints of the previous shows.
What strikes you as you enter the Guggenheim show is: Why on earth should she have been forgotten at all? One of the first pieces is also one of Albers’s earliest, a design for a wall hanging executed in 1926, while she was still a student at the Bauhaus in Weimar. She had arrived feeling “a tangle of hopelessness” and taken a textile class, grudgingly, because it was the only one on offer to her as a female student. Despite the poor tuition, she quickly realized that she had found her métier. The design is only thirteen-and-a-half inches high, in pencil and gouache: a rectilinear, Mondrian-like puzzle of yellow, black, and blue stripes and blocks, enforced by the weaving style Albers selected. Woven into a silk, rayon, and linen hanging by her Bauhaus colleague Gunta Stölzl, forty-one years later, it still looks immaculately contemporary. From the “tangle,” she had found shape and line.