Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick OBE today 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’.

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.”