The Whitechapel Gallery commissioned leading British artist Rachel Whiteread to make a new work of art for the building’s façade. The Gallery is an important listed Arts and Crafts building dating from 1901, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. The original plans show that it was to have a frieze embodying the Gallery’s public message – to bring great art to the people of London.
The frieze however was never realised, leaving instead a large blank rectangle high above the main entrance. So now, some 100 years later, Whiteread has created a frieze to complete the Whitechapel Gallery façade.
For this commission, Whiteread drew inspiration from the decorative Tree of Life motif which is part of the terracotta building. This series of films charts the work which has gone in to the project, from the smouldering bronze foundry casting of leaves and branches, to first-hand footage of the gilding of the work being made 20 metres above Whitechapel High Street. The new frieze was unveiled in June 2012.
Whiteread is an internationally acclaimed artist and the first woman to win the Turner Prize, in 1993. She has lived near the Whitechapel Gallery in east London for the past 25 years. Although one of the world’s foremost sculptors, with major public works in Europe and the USA, this is her first ever permanent public commission in the UK.
The commission is enabled by the Art Fund, with additional support from the Henry Moore Foundation and is part of the London 2012 Festival. The Art Fund is best known for its role in ‘saving’ Old Masters for the nation, and this commission reflects the charity’s ongoing parallel role in supporting contemporary art.