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 original frieze however was never realised, leaving instead a large blank rectangle high above the main entrance. So now, some 100 years later, the Whitechapel Gallery commissioned Whiteread to create a frieze to complete the façade.
For this commission, Whiteread has drawn inspiration from the decorative Tree of Life motif which is part of the terracotta building. This series of films charts the hot, grinding and detailed work that has gone into making the cast leaves and the terracotta windows that will form part of the new frieze, which 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.