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 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.
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.
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.