1. Westminster Abbey's new Weston Tower designed by Ptolemy Dean.

Genius in genes

Those Deans are everywhere. Artist Tacita Dean has been having concurrent shows at the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery and, now, her work is on show at the redesigned Royal Academy of Arts in Burlington Gardens. Meanwhile her brother, Ptolemy Dean, Westminster Abbey's current Surveyor of the Fabric (Consultant Architect), has been busy designing a new tower for the Abbey.

The resulting Weston Tower, a five-year project, combines modern elegance and an organic strength, as it blends in perfectly with its august host, the Abbey itself. Its lead-gridded windows with small panes echo those used by Sir Christopher Wren, Surveyor of the Fabric from 1698 to 1723.

The new tower, the first major addition to the abbey since 1745, is outside Poets' Corner, neatly tucked between the Abbey's 13th-century Chapter House and the 16th-century Lady Chapel. Its purpose is to house a lift and stairs leading up to the medieval Triforium, now housing The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, 52 feet above floor level. The views up here are breathtaking and have formerly only been seen via television cameras during royal weddings, funerals or other state occasions.

Inside the galleries 300 of the Abbey's greatest treasures are set out in four themed sections: Building Westminster Abbey; Worship and Daily Life; Westminster Abbey and the Monarchy and The Abbey and National Memory. The exhibits range from a display of sumptuous gold plate to a stuffed African grey parrot from 1702 that belonged to Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox.



2. Detail of panel showing St Peter, from the Westminster Retable, 1259–69. England's oldest altarpiece.

The first section, Building Westminster Abbey, charts the foundations of the first Benedictine monastery in AD 960, its life as Edward the Confessor's church, and the extensive repair programme overseen by Sir Christopher Wren, who commissioned an intricate scale model of Westminster Abbey around 1715. The model included a massive central spire, which was planned but never built.

In Worship and Daily Life you can see the Westminster retable, circa 1259–69, from Henry III's abbey, the oldest surviving altarpiece in England, and the Litlington Missal, an illuminated 14th-century service book made for the high altar.

Westminster Abbey and the Monarchy examines the building's special relationship with the Crown; it has been the Coronation church since 1066. Queen Mary II's much graffitied Coronation Chair from 1689 is on show, as is the marriage certificate of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from 2011.

The final section, The Abbey and National Memory, examines how it has served as a place of commemoration. Monarchs apart, many notable Britons, such as Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton are buried or memorialised here. In Poets' Corner poets and writers, from Lewis Carroll to Sir John Betjeman, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to TS Eliot, are represented.


3. Total eclipse from Antigone, 2018, by Tacita Dean, on show at the RA.

Meanwhile at the newly designed Royal Academy of Arts, LANDSCAPE by Tacita Dean is the first exhibition on show in the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries. The first room of the exhibition contains The Montafon Letter, 2017, a monumental image of snowy mountains drawn on a blackboard, a series of dreamy cloudscapes on slates, and Majesty, 2006, a portrait of a stupendous oak tree in Fredville Park, Kent; but the real masterpiece on show is one of Tacita Dean's trademark magical 35mm films. Antigone is a compelling 56-minute, diptych film projection, created especially for the RA, in which a series of images of landscapes, from Bodmin Moor to Wyoming, and a solar eclipse make a dramatic statement. These are much more eloquent than the conversation between actor Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones) and Canadian writer/poet Anne Carson, who has translated the work of many Classical writers, such as Sappho, Euripides and Aeschylus.

This quasi-narrative film combines multiple places, geologies and seasons into a spectacular cinematographic frame using the same masking technique first developed by Dean for her Tate Modern Turbine Hall project FILM, 2011. Shown on the hour every hour, its stately pace means that you sit quietly as the images wash over you.

• LANDSCAPE is on show at the Royal Academy of Arts until 12 August 2018;
visit www.royalacademy.org.uk.
• To book tickets for The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey visit www.westminster-abbey.org/galleries.
Lindsay Fulcher

 

 

 


Roger Williams

 



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