Born in Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1977, Michael Dean lives and works in London. His work explores themes of language, the act of writing and the struggle to communicate in a variety of forms, including sculpture, photography, poetry, plays, publications and performance.
His process has been described as a series of translations: writing, creating diagrammatic typographies of the text, then embodying those texts in solid, physical form. Often made of concrete cast in flexible plastic bags and supported with steel reinforcement, his sculptures sometimes vaguely resemble letters of the alphabet and are installed occasionally on top of Dean’s self-published books filled with opaque, almost nonsensical phrases printed in pictogram lettering designed by the artist. These abstract, industrial objects project an extraordinary humanity: often slightly hunched, slumped, or leaning on one another, their concrete “skin” resembling wrinkled flesh, the sculptures take on human qualities that elicit sympathy. It is not unusual for viewers to empathize with these beings and connect with their plight.
Dean’s installations are often holistic experiences, rather than straightforward presentations of independent objects: recent exhibitions have included detritus from the making of the sculptures, torn and dyed books, as well as dried grasses, pennies, stickers, and specimen bags strewn across the gallery. For his exhibition at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dean has created new works stemming from learning that, as the artist points out, “evolutionarily, cacti can be described as having lost true leaves.” The books, pages, and sculptures in the exhibition ruminate on the phrase “lost true leaves,” and elaborate on what Dean describes as “emotions that diagrammatically analogue loving and hating, leaving and having left.” Here, he has altered the Lower Level Gallery, covering the oak floorboards with white vinyl, giving the space the starkness of an empty page, a method he initially employed earlier this year at an exhibition at South London Gallery. That exhibition, and another at De Appel Arts Centre, Amsterdam, earned Dean recognition as a nominee for the celebrated Turner Prize, an annual award given by the Tate to a British artist under the age of fifty. Sightings: Michael Dean is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States.
Lost True Leaves offers a compendium of Dean’s practice, drawing from and expanding upon his previous investigations of language, its visual cognates, and its complexities. The result is a densely layered field of objects linking poetic, philosophical considerations of the written word with guttural utterances and the panoply of visual analogues—from printed icons from the worlds of advertising and popular culture to physical gestures to abstract sculpture—that comprise our daily struggle to make ourselves understood.
The Sightings series is generously sponsored by Lara and Stephen Harrison. Sightings: Michael Dean is supported by FABA Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, The Henry Moore Foundation and Zlot Buell + Associates.