Rachel Whiteread Whitechapel Sculpture Voted Art Fund’s Most Popular Attraction

Rachel Whiteread’s gilded bronze frieze, ‘Tree of Life’ has been voted the nation’s favourite work of art supported by the Art Fund in 2012, in a poll of museum goers.

Featuring clusters of leaves, cast in bronze and plated in gold leaf, Tree of Life covers the sculptural façade of the Whitechapel Gallery in East London and was commissioned as part of 2012’s Cultural Olympiad. The Art Fund supported the commission with a £200,000 grant. The work was inspired by both the Tree of Life, an Arts and Crafts motif adorning the gallery’s towers, and ‘Hackney weed’, the urban plants that grow on buildings in the area.

Tree of Life The poll, which received nearly 4,000 votes, offered Art Fund supporters a chance to choose their favourite from a list of 16 works supported in 2012 by the national fundraising charity for art. Voted in second place is Titian’s Diana and Callisto, acquired jointly by the National Gallery and the National Galleries of Scotland. It is one of the most celebrated and admired paintings in the European tradition and a companion piece to Titian’s Diana and Actaeon, also jointly acquired by the two galleries in 2009. Diana and Callisto, 1556-1559 © National Gallery The third most popular work of the year is Yinka Shonibare MBE’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle. This critically-acclaimed and much-loved work was originally commissioned by the Mayor of London for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, where it was displayed from May 2010 to January 2012. After a fundraising campaign by the Art Fund the work was acquired by the National Maritime Museum where it now takes pride of place. Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle Close behind in fourth place is Grayson Perry’s The Vanity of Small Differences, a series of tapestries telling the story of class mobility and exploring the influence social class has on our aesthetic taste.

The Art Fund has given support for these tapestries to be gifted into the Collections of the Arts Council and the British Council and will also be supporting the UK tour of the works in 2013-14. The Vanity of Small Differences Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund said: “This year has been a golden year for acquisitions and the Art Fund has helped UK museums add a dazzling variety of work to their collections – from Old Masters, including exceptional paintings by Titian and Poussin, to new work by artists including Grayson Perry and Roger Hiorns. And Rachel Whiteread’s elegant commission for the Whitechapel Gallery, part of the Cultural Olympiad, was inevitably one of the highlights of our 2012. “ 

The glittering frieze across the Whitechapel Gallery facade led a top five dominated by British art from the last five years. The exception was Titian’s 16th-century masterpiece Diana and Callisto, bought for the National Gallery and National Galleries of Scotland following a lengthy fundraising campaign.

1. Rachel Whiteread, Tree of Life, 2012
Whitechapel Gallery – 18%

This is Whiteread’s first permanent UK public work. Cast in bronze and plated in gold leaf, the Whitechapel’s stunning facade is now emblazoned with shimmering foliage.

2. Titian, Diana and Callisto, 1556–9
National Gallery and Scottish National Galleries – 13%

Titian’s masterpiece along with its companion painting Diana and Actaeon were described by Lucian Freud as ‘simply the most beautiful paintings in the world’.

3. Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2011
National Maritime Museum – 11%

Shonibare’s iconic Fourth Plinth sculpture was bought with funds raised by our public campaign to give the work a fitting permanent new home in Greenwich.

4. Grayson Perry, The Vanity of Small Differences, 2012
Arts Council Collection – 11%

Bursting with colour, cultural references and Perry’s trademark wit, the six tapestries narrate the story of social mobility and cultural taste in contemporary British society.

5. Roger Hiorns, Seizure, 2008
Arts Council Collection – 9%

Hiorns’ entrancing blue crystal sculpture, made from 75,000 litres of liquid copper sulphate, will go on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park next year.