77-82 Whitechapel High Road,
London E1 7 QX
Wednesday April 9 2015
Today’s museum outing was prefaced by another (yes, we feel entitled to be blasé having already been in the Evening Standard and Guardian and on BBC and ITV) meeting with the press – this time Alexi Duggins, Editor at Large (that means he gets to leave the office – a lot) from Time Out who have previously given us a boost and reference though not a full article. I think the element he found most intriguing was that we stuck at one thing whereas I suppose his professional life is defined by variety and novelty.
Very helpfully he and his photographer had alerted the gallery that they were coming and this allowed us to take a few photos, and be escorted by Alex, the Gallery’s press and PR officer.
The gallery has a long and venerable history and we liked the fact that it was founded in the spirit of Victorian philanthropy – the Barnetts strike again! – and the wish to bring art to the East End, and also allow locals to exhibit. (Though to prove that philanthropy is not always modest, we have been interested to learn that it lost a chance for a substantial donation from John Passmore Edwards when, unlike the Library next door, it declined to call itself the Passmore Edwards Gallery.) The South East London member of the party is pleased to note that architect for the Gallery, Charles Harrison Townsend, is also the man who designed the Horniman Museum.
From 1901 the Whitechapel Gallery has stood at the heart of a changing community showcasing the work of a range of contemporary artists for free and welcoming in the locals – most galleries that do not house permanent collections are to be found ‘up west’ and are essentially commercial. There was a great range of limited editions prints should you have the wall space. The original purpose designed building was revamped in the Eighties and in 2009 almost doubled its exhibition space by incorporating the Passmore Edwards Library from next door – the fusion of the two buildings works extremely well and we loved the space and light within before we had even entered any of the display galleries. It is no accident that two previous directors, Charles Aitken and then Sir Nicholas Serota, went on to helm the Tate Gallery(ies). Their reputation has been in hosting more challenging exhibitions, but also those that draw on the local community.
The downstairs room had just closed its exhibition about the ‘black square’ looking at abstract art which has been around longer than you might think. We were upstairs enjoying the energy of Peter Liversidge’s ‘Notes on Protesting’ where he had worked with a local Tower Hamlets School (Marion Richardson, she of the handwriting) to get primary age children to think about what they disliked and wanted to change. Anything that politicizes and activises young people must be good and we agreed with most of their choices: banning dog poo (or at least clearing it properly) and helping poor people ranked high and were straightforward and laudable. A plea to do away with Homework is not new and as Jo said years of research has not really proved whether making younger children (as young as 4+) ‘do homework’ actually improves their learning or achievements overall. I suppose for secondary age pupils the time might be too short to cover the curriculum without doing some of it out of school?? Anyway I digress – There must be an improvement in school meals as these did not feature greatly in the protests. As part of the artwork the children were filmed doing their ‘protesting’ Peter Liversidge likes to combine documentation and performance in his conceptual art.
Gallery 7 a lovely airy space was used to display a range of works curated by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. This exhibition is entitled ‘Natures – Natural and Unnatural ‘ with works generally redolent of Spring so the whole room has a positive but peaceful air to it. She has drawn on contributions from the Moscow based V-A-C gallery (a fairly recent post Glasnost collection hoping to showcase home-grown more modern art ) broadly referencing nature in its content. Warhol’s screen print of a dairy cow was based , as is often the case, on some advertisement, and is quite reminiscent of ‘la Vache Qui Rit’, a childhood favourite – persevere with this website and you will get an irreverent gallop through two millennia of ‘art’ cow style.
Talking of familiar tropes – there were sunflowers about as cheerful as you can get – this time thanks to David Hockney rather than Van Gogh but with the obligatory wilting bloom - always there as a ‘vanitas’ symbol of the brevity of life.
We enjoyed the masked people (or were they blooms?) by Enrico David not quite dancing like the Russian artist gyrating to Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’ on the grave of his father, not so much in disrespect as joy. An eclectic and stimulating choice.
The Whitechapel Gallery does not have a substantive collection so we had taken ‘pot luck’ with today’s visit but were overall impressed greatly enjoying the building and its facilities – large and largely serious bookshop, airy streetside café and renovated basement loos. But of course the art was what we took away on this marvellous spring day.