'Passionate European’ Tacita Dean unveils stormy new work at heart of UK government

Tacita Dean with her screenprint edition Foreign Policy (2019)
Courtesy the artist, Frith Street Gallery, London and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York / Paris © Tacita Dean. Photo: Matt Alexander/PA Wire

Artist Tacita Dean has created the latest commission for the UK Government Art Collection (GAC), producing a huge work drawn in chalk on blackboard which hangs in the Foreign and Commonwealth (Foreign Policy, 2016).

Dean’s piece is part of the Robson Orr Ten Ten Award initiative, a ten-year scheme whereby a UK artist is commissioned to create a limited edition print to be shown in diplomatic buildings worldwide. The project launched last year with the inaugural award given to the artist Hurvin Anderson (one of his prints hangs in No. 10 Downing Street).

In a briefing held today at the Foreign Office, Dean alluded to Brexit and the UK’s impending departure from the European Union, saying that she had “made the work [a Caifornian cloudscape] far too gentle. It should be way, way angrier. As a UK European abroad, and as an artist in Berlin, Britons [living] on the outside were more scared than those on the inside. Now, we’re living through the repercussions of that new world unfortunately.”

A project statement says that Dean’s work was drawn specifically with the Foreign Office in mind, and “simultaneously evokes the challenge of capturing the mutability of clouds and an epoch of unprecedented global change and uncertainty”.

Tacita Dean with her commission for the UK Government Art Collection at the Foreign and Commonwealth
Photo: Gareth Harris

The Foreign Policy (2019) chalk work hangs in the office of Sir Simon McDonald, the head of HM Diplomatic Service. “We had to rearrange the furniture to protect the piece,” he said. “Tacita brought her chalks with her today.” A copy of 1984by George Orwell sits on McDonald’s desk.

Dean’s cloudscape piece is also available as a screenprint, available in an edition of 32 (with 6 artist’s proofs). Fifteen editions will be acquired by the GAC and distributed to embassies, consulates-generals and other government residences globally. Eleven works will be available to purchase through the arts organisation Outset, priced at £8,500 each.

“They sell the works on our behalf; the money raised increases acquisitions [funding] and support British art,” says Penny Johnson, director of the GAC. The remainder will be available through Dean’s dealers including Frith Street Gallery in London. The Government Art Collection (GAC), established in 1898, is a national collection of historic and contemporary art displayed in government buildings in the UK and abroad.

Dean is currently creating the sets and costumes for The Dante Project, the second part of which will be shown at the Royal Opera House in London next May. The piece, a collaboration with the choreographer Wayne MacGregor, interprets the Purgatory and Paradise sections of Dante’s classic depiction of the afterlife. The Inferno part premiered at the Music Centre in Los Angeles earlier this year.

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