London 2012: Olympic Opening Ceremony director Danny Boyle unveils Rachel Whiteread’s new Whitechapel Gallery frieze
15:26 14 June 2012
The East End’s famous Whitechapel Gallery is finally finished, more than 100 years after it was built, its director said today.
Gallery director Iwona Blazwick and Olympic Opening Ceremony director Danny Boyle this morning unveiled a major new commission by East End artist Rachel Whiteread for the building’s historic façade as part of the London 2012 festival.
A frieze for the gallery’s facade was designed by Walter Crane in 1899 but was never realised and it opened in 1901 with a blank space between its iconic towers.
Now Whiteread, who has lived around the corner from the Whitechapel High Street gallery for 25 years, has put the finishing touches to the building which underwent a multi-million pound restoration in 2009.
Ms Blazwick said: “The Whietchapel Gallery is finally finished. Rachel Whiteread is one of Britain’s leading artists, and we’re delighted to unveil her new work of art for the Whitechapel Gallery’s century-old façade.”
The work is Whiteread’s first ever permanent public commission in the UK and features a golden cluster of leaves and branches across the front of the gallery, high above the street below.
The artist took inspiration from the gallery’s existing terracotta architecture, especially its towers each with a Tree of Life – an Arts and Crafts motif symbolising social renewal through the arts.
She cast their leaves in bronze and covered them in gold leaf to create a glittering flurry across the frieze.
Whiteread said she was also inspired by the tenacious presence of urban plants like buddleja, which she calls Hackney weed. She said: “I was thinking as I was walking along Brick Lane and I saw these weeds; they have a place in London as much as anyone else.
“Having been a resident of the East End for over 25 years I have a deep connection with the area and its cultural depths and diversity.
“The Whitechapel Gallery has played a pivotal role in the East End’s historic and thriving cultural community.
“I am honoured to have been able to make a site-specific sculpture for the galleries facade, contributing to the fabric and architecture of this historic landmark and London’s cultural legacy.”
“I’m looking forward to the first blue carrier bag attaching itself to it,” she added.
The frieze was commissioned as part of the London 2012 Festival and was funded by the Art Fund and Arts Council England.
One of Whiteread’s earlier works was House, a concrete cast of the inside of an entire Victorian terraced house at 193 Grove Road, near to where Boyle has lived in Mile End for the past 30 years.
He said: “As a next door neighbour of Rachel’s House, I can testify that even now, almost 20 years after it disappeared, it’s still talked about and missed.
“It’s wonderful that her next door neighbour, the Whitechapel, will now be the permanent site for her latest work.”