Whitechapel Gallery

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The Whitechapel Gallery is a public art gallery on the north side of Whitechapel High Street, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Designed by Charles Harrison Townsend, it was founded in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London, and it has a long track record for education and outreach projects, now focused on the Whitechapel area's deprived populations. It exhibits the work of contemporary artists, as well as organising retrospective exhibitions and shows that are of interest to the local community.


The Whitechapel Gallery exhibited Pablo Picasso's Guernica in 1938 as part of a touring exhibition organised by Roland Penrose to protest the Spanish Civil War.

The Whitechapel Gallery played an important part in the history of post-war British art, several important exhibitions were held at the Whitechapel Gallery including This is Tomorrow in 1956, the first UK exhibition by Mark Rothko in 1961, and in 1964 The New Generation show which featured John Hoyland, Bridget Riley, David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield among others.

Initiated by members of the Independent Group, the exhibition brought Pop Art to the general public as well as introducing some of the artists, concepts, designers and photographers that would define the Swinging Sixties.

Throughout its history, the Whitechapel Gallery had a series of open exhibitions that were a strong feature for the area's artist community, but by the early 1990s these open shows became less relevant as emerging artists moved to other areas.

In the late 1970s, the critical importance of the Whitechapel Gallery was displaced by newer venues such as the Hayward Gallery, but in the 1980s the Gallery enjoyed a resurgence under the Directorship of Nicholas Serota. The Whitechapel Gallery had a major refurbishment in 1986 and completed, in April 2009, a two-year programme of work to incorporate the former Passmore Edwards Library building next door, vacated when Whitechapel Idea Store opened. This has doubled the physical size of the Gallery and nearly tripled the available exhibition space, and now allows the Whitechapel Gallery to remain open to the public all year round.

The Whitechapel has premiered international artists such as Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Nan Goldin, and provided a showcase for Britain’s most significant artists including Gilbert & George, John Hoyland, Lucian Freud, Bridget Riley, Peter Doig, Ian McKeever and Mark Wallinger. The Gallery plays a unique role in London's cultural landscape and is pivotal to the continued growth of east London as one of the world’s most vibrant contemporary art quarters.

Notable exhibitions

Template:Or 1939 - Guernica, Picasso’s iconic depiction of the horrors of the Spanish civil war, is displayed at the Whitechapel on its first and only visit to Britain

1956 - This is Tomorrow exhibit

1958 - The first major show in Britain of seminal American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock

1961 - British premiere of Mark Rothko. The installation of his work at the Whitechapel becomes his template for all subsequent shows

1964 - The New Generation showcasing the work of John Hoyland, Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney, Paul Huxley, Alan Jones and Bridget Riley.

1970 and 1971 - First major David Hockney retrospective, first major shows of Gilbert & George and Richard Long

1982 - The Whitechapel Gallery introduces little-known Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo to London audiences

1993 - The Whitechapel Gallery showcases Lucian Freud, one of Britain’s greatest living figurative painters

2001 and 2002 - Liam Gillick and Nan Goldin stage their first major solo shows in the UK

2008 - Cornelia Parker's film Chomskian Abstract, featuring Noam Chomsky

2009 – First Major retrospective of Isa Genzken's work and solo shows for Sophie Calle and Elizabeth Peyton

2010 – First survey of Alice Neel's portraits in Britain

19–20 January 2011 the gallery hosted the inaugural Northern Future Forum gathering of prime ministers.


Since 1923, art has been presented alongside education. A not-for-profit educational charity, the Whitechapel has pioneered artists’ residencies in schools and other education innovations that have been adopted as models across the UK and internationally.


Rodney Graham's Weathervane (2008) was commissioned for the new expansion

The Whitechapel reopened on 4 April 2009 after a two-year project, which approximately doubled the size of the Gallery by incorporating the former neighbouring library building. The work cost approximately £13.5 million and was partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. A tapestry based on Pablo Picasso's Guernica, loaned by the United Nations, was included in the inaugural exhibition by Goshka Macuga. and Isa Genzken.

As part of the expansion, a new Archive Gallery, a reading room and an archive repository (where the Whitechapel’s historic records are held) have been created to support the Whitechapel's standing as an educational charity. The archives catalogue the very conception of the gallery, as well as the complete directors' files of correspondence which reveal the reasons behind key decisions in the Gallery's history.


  • Charles Aitken (1901–1911)
  • Bryan Robertson (1952–1968)
  • Jasia Reichardt (1974–1976)
  • Nicholas Serota (1976–1988)
  • Catherine Lampert (1988–2002)
  • Iwona Blazwick (2002– )


The nearest tube stations are Aldgate East and Aldgate tube station



External links

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