British artist Tacita Dean (born 1965) and German artist Gudrun Von Maltzan (born 1941) have nothing in common in their style but they both admire trees and I just happened to see both their exhibitions this week. The respect they show for very special trees is interesting. Tacita is at Bourse du Commerce and at Opéra Garnier with her decors for the “Dante Project” by Wayne McGregor, Gudrun is at Galerie Documents 15, rue de l’Echaudé. One photographs in color and draws with white pencil on very large prints, the other draws in pencil on brown paper, and describes the time she spends on each “portrait”. They are both extraordinary.
Meeting Tacita Dean, the multimedia British artist who became German after the Brexit, was very moving. She shows large photographs of historical Japanese cherry blossom trees with a chalk on blackboard drawing of a glacier, “The Wreck of Hope” in Gallery Two, of the Pinault Collection. The trees are revered in Japan in the region of Fukushima as they are 2 500 years old and carry a name Taki I and Sakura I. She managed to get a visa for Japan in April 2022 and went on quarantine there before being able to shoot these pictures of very old cherry blossom trees. Their fragility as they defy time, is made more obvious by the white wooden supports. The way she works with color on the photographs “refashioning… and transforming them into a kind of magical apparition ” is superb. A sort of mist and mystery is created by the white pencil.
Tacita Dean tried to illustrate the Japanese cycle of seasons which includes 72 moments. Summer is symbolized by a melting glacier. In “Singular Geography”, she illustrates part of her large travelling experience which took her very young to Sierra Leone and Greece but also Los Angeles after the major storm. She lives in Berlin. Like Cy Twombly (who has a large series of works on the second floor), she includes writings in her chalk drawings, like an intimate diary, and refers to Salman Rushdie’s attack in August of 2022. Two circular films are shown in a special rotunda created inside the Tadao Ando architecture and I found it very disappointing that the superb space be cut down to show her films.
The space at Galerie Documents 15, in the Latin quarter, is more modest but the drawings in pencil on virgin yellow paper by Gudrun Von Maltzan, are spectacular. “I hope it doesn’t rain” is the title of the series which includes olive trees, sequoia, elms, oaks, pines and banyan trees. Born in 1941, she has lived in France since 1973 and taught in Mulhouse. Her first trip was to Laos, and to Vietnam where she found such humidity in the summer that her paper was to damp to draw. She decided to return to China the following October and also travelled to Iceland. In the meantime she spent the summer in Mecklenburg on the “German road of alleys” which extends on 2900 kms from the Baltic Sea to the Bodensee and decides to draw its trees.
A series of vertical drawings will start on her scroll of old yellow paper. After her rocks in Yangshuo, China, trees will become her unique obsession. There are mostly elements from Schloss Grubenhagen, in Mecklenburg, a birch tree with a short trunk, a poplar tree, a willow with ivy and a chestnut tree, but also a Japanese sequoia with a large trunk and a Japanese cedar, both very vertical. When the trunk of an 350 year old oak is too large for her scroll of paper, she does not hesitate to cut part of it as if she were taking a badly framed picture. Every morning, she embraces the tree before starting her drawing. On the side, she inscribes the number of hours that she spends on each part of the tree as she draws it from the bottom and unrolls the paper to the top.
One of the trees in the show was done in la Vallée aux Loups, the arboretum created on Chateaubriand’s estate in Châtenay Malabry, near Paris. Another one, an oak, in Ariège, two olive trees are from Forcalquier and Kythira in Greece. But most come from Germany.
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