Rachel Whiteread Revamps The Whitechapel Gallery

Turner Prize winning Artist creates permanent Sculpture for London gallery

The Whitechapel Gallery has commissioned Rachel Whiteread to produce a permanent artwork to decorate the outside of the Gallery. The frieze will be constructed in cast bronze and gilded. The organic plant form will be an updated version of the detailing, which decorates Vienna Secessionist building, designed by Josef Maria Olbrich, in 1897-8, a few years before the Whitechapel was constructed. The original design for the building had incorporated a mosiac panel by the Art Nouveau artist Walter Crane, but it proved too large and expensive to execute, in the construction. Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick OBE today unveiled detailed plans of the major new commission for the building’s historic façade. The work is Whiteread’s first ever permanent public commission in the UK. The commission was made possible by the Art Fund and is a key part of the London 2012 Olympic arts Festival. It is due to be unveiled in June 2012 in the sunup to the Games.
Rachel Whiteread is an internationally-acclaimed artist who has lived near the Whitechapel Gallery in east London for the past 25 years.  The work is commissioned for the facade of the Gallery, an important Grade II* listed Arts and Crafts building dating from 1901 and designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. The original plans for the Gallery show it was to have a frieze embodying  the Gallery’s public message – to bring great art to the people of London. It was never realised and a large blank rectangle has instead remained above the main entrance.  Now, some 100 years later, the Whitechapel Gallery has commissioned Rachel Whiteread to create a frieze to complete the façade.
For over a century the Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo to contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Lucian Freud, Gilbert & George and Mark Wallinger. With beautiful galleries, exhibitions, artist commissions, collection displays, historic archives, education resources, inspiring art courses, dining room and bookshop, the newly expanded Gallery is open all year round, so there is always something free to see. The Gallery is a touchstone for contemporary art internationally, plays a central role in London’s cultural landscape and is pivotal to the continued growth of the world’s most vibrant contemporary art quarter. As part of it’s 2009 expansion the Gallery commissioned a series of works of art on permanent display throughout the building, including a weathervane by Rodney Graham, lights by Tobias Rehberger and seats by Annie Ratti and Franz West.
For this commission, Whiteread draws inspiration from the decorative Tree of Life motif, which is part of the terracotta building, to create a powerful new
work of art celebrating the qualities of the existing architecture.  Typically, Whiteread is making casts from existing features, to then create clusters of gilded leaves and branches which catch and reflect light as a motif that floats above the existing trees on the upper part of the façade. Four negative casts of existing Gallery windows in terracotta will be located centrally within the recessed panel area between the towers, as a formal counterpoint to the leaf elements.
This ambitious and important commission will enable the Whitechapel Gallery to play a central part in the London 2012 Festival by creating a lasting artistic legacy for the enjoyment of all, as well as enhancing one ofLondon’s most important street arteries – Whitechapel High Street or ‘High Street 2012’.
The commission is enabled by the Art Fund.  Famous for its frequent role in ‘saving’ Old Masters for the nation, the commission reflects the fundraising charity’s ongoing parallel role in supporting contemporary art.

Iwona Blazwick, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, said. ‘The Whitechapel Gallery has been the artist’s gallery for over a century, so it is truly fitting to have a major new work of art for our facade created by Rachel Whiteread, one of Britain’s leading artists. Having lived near the Gallery for 25 Years it’s wonderful that Rachel’s work will become part of the fabric of the building for future generations to enjoy.  Her minimalist aesthetic and use of existing architectural forms as the departure point for her sculpture are the perfect fit for this commission. Our thanks to The Art Fund for their generous support in enabling this commission and our partners at the London 2012 Festival.’

Rachel Whiteread is one of Britain’s leading contemporary sculptors. Born in London in 1963 she studied painting at Brighton Polytechnic and sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art. She came to public attention in 1993 with her sculpture, House, a life-sized cast of the interior of a condemned terraced house in east London which was eventually demolished in 1994. Whiteread was the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993, she realised one of the Unilever Commissions for Tate Modern’s turbine hall, as well as being commissioned to make a sculpture for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.  She is now a leading international artist, creating major public works in both Europe and the United States, including the Holocaust memorial at the Judenplatz in Vienna, one of the most prestigious sculptural commissions in Europe.