Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Whitechapel Art Gallery, Whitechapel High Street E1

The front of the Whitechapel Art Gallery was a flat, unadorned wall for more than a century after it was completed in 1901.
As designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, it was going to frame an allegorical mosaic by Walter Crane but the philanthropists backing the project fell out and it was never executed. The only decoration was the interlocking foliage by Walter Aumonier.
In 2012, a new artwork called Tree of Life was commissioned from Rachel Whiteread as part of the Cultural Olympiad. She covered it with gold leaves, four central blocks providing a pivot for the design.
In 2007 the gallery expanded into the former Passmore Edwards Library (1892) next door, having reconstructed it internally and restored the facade, including the rather charming terracotta work includind a putto over the main window and friezes with cherubs, by E. Caldwell Spruce of Burmantofts Art Pottery in Leeds.
As a final touch, a weathervane by the Canadian artist Rodney Graham was popped on the tower. . Called Allegory of Folly, it depicts Erasmus reading his master work, In Praise of Folly, while riding backwards on a horse. There is a story that the great humanist wrote his famous attack on superstition while riding from Italy to London, but there is an alternative account that says he wrote it in a week at Sir Thomas More's house.
The figure is in fact Graham himself, dressed in Renaissance schmutter and clutching the Vancouver telephone directory. It is an idea he has played with before, in a windvane of himself riding a bicycle backwards.

1 comment:

Hels said...

I am very familiar with the Tree of Life, but that would normally be... well... tree shaped. Did Rachel Whiteread say why she covered the building with gorgeous gold leaves, but no trunk or branches?