Whitechapel Gallery’s new Rachel Whiteread frieze unveiled by the artist with filmmaker Danny Boyle

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Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick OBE has unveiled the major new commission by British artist Rachel Whiteread for the building’s historic façade with the artist and an introduction by Danny Boyle, filmmaker and London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony Artistic Director.

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.

For this new work of art Whiteread celebrates 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 to create a glittering flurry across the frieze.  Also inspired by the tenacious presence of urban plants like buddleja, which the artist calls ‘Hackney weed’, Whiteread has covered the leaves and branches in gold leaf, making them part of London’s rooftop repertoire of gilded angels, heraldic animals and crests. Four reliefs, casts of windows, stand as reminders of previous architectural interventions.

Rachel Whiteread is internationally renowned for her sculpture which often takes existing architectural structures as its starting point.  She came to prominence in 1993 with House, her cast of an entire Victorian house in east London. Although this was dismantled, her Holocaust Memorial (2000) in Vienna and Water Tower (1998) in New York remain as permanent public sculptures.  She has lived near the Whitechapel Gallery for 25 years.

The Whitechapel Gallery Rachel Whiteread commission is made possible by the Art Fund. It is one of the major commissions of the London 2012 Festival, with support from Arts Council England.

This ambitious and important commission enables 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 of London’s most important street arteries – Whitechapel High Street or ‘High Street 2012’.

The commission is enabled by the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity supporting museums and galleries across the UK. For over a hundred years it has been instrumental in building and developing public collections by supporting the acquisition of all art in all forms and media from Old Masters to the contemporary.

Today’s unveiling by Iwona Blazwick was made at the Whitechapel Gallery alongside Rachel Whiteread, Danny Boyle, The Art Fund’s Director Stephen Deuchar, and Ruth Mackenzie, Director of the London 2012 Festival.

Iwona Blazwick, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, said. ‘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.  Her beautiful, minimalist works always reflects their surroundings, and here she uses the existing architecture of the facade to draw attention to the history of the Gallery. This new work of art is now part of the fabric of the building for future generations to enjoy, as they walk along the busy high street and simply start looking up. Our thanks to the Art Fund for their generous support in enabling this commission and our partners at the London 2012 Festival.’

Rachel Whiteread, artist, said, ‘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.’

Danny Boyle, filmmaker and London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony Artistic Director, 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.’

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said, “This exquisite new work by Rachel Whiteread permanently and beautifully transforms the façade of a remarkable art gallery.  The Art Fund was excited by the artist’s proposals from the word go and was delighted to make a major grant to make the commission possible. The finished work is a coup for London, its public, and its visitors.”

Ruth Mackenzie, Director, Cultural Olympiad & London 2012 Festival, said, ‘Our London 2012 Festival co-commission to Rachel Whiteread will finally give the Whitechapel Gallery the beautiful frieze planned since the building was conceived. It will give the legacy of a world class piece free to the millions who travel down Whitechapel High Street.’

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