Published on November 6, 2012 | by Siss Andersen


A gilded corner of Whitechapel

A little piece of the Olympic legacy in East London [Photograph sourced from the Whitechapel Gallery]

Sculptor Rachel Whiteread’s Tree of Life has transformed the exterior of the Whitechapel Gallery. Golden cast leaves now fill the blank space above its entrance, brightening the entire east area that surrounds the building in E1.

As you walk by at the other side of Whitechapel High Street, the spectacular view can be described as artistic magic. It almost feels like a small part of the Harry Potter universe has been placed in front of you right in the middle of this familiar part of London.

“I’ve made it as a gift to the area, something that will brighten someone’s day”, the artist told the BBC of her latest work. If the intention was to lighten up the High Street, she definitely succeeded. In 1993, Whiteread became the first woman to ever receive the Turner Prize.

“It’s wonderful to have something in the high street that isn’t a franchise or a brand,” Danny Boyle

Her most famous work is the Holocaust Memorial (2000) in Vienna and the Water Tower (1998) in New York, but this work is her first permanent public commission in the UK.

To make the sculptor she used the existing architectural structure and added to it, making the building shine in bronze and adorned with these spectacular golden leaves, which are close to a hundred in number. That there is no clear symmetry or pattern only makes the impression stronger. All of the leaves are handmade, which is a principle the artist always works by.

Tree of Life is one of the major commissions of the London 2012 festival, and was revealed earlier this June.

“The arts and craft motif is symbolizing social renewal through arts. It’s wonderful to have something in the high street that isn’t a franchise or a brand,” said filmmaker Danny Boyle, the artistic director of Olympic Games opening ceremony.

For 25 years Whiteread has lived in this particular part of London, and finally she has made a significant contribution to her hometown. It’s hard to criticise an artwork of this quality, but it’s hard to spot the piece unless you know of it, so people could easily miss out on the magic.

Visit the Whitechapel Gallery at  77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX, general admission is free and the nearest tube station is Aldgate East.

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