If you’re familiar with the metropolitan buildings of Whitechapel high street - the chrome, modern buildings punctuated only by the occasional Pret - you’d be forgiven if you thought it would be no place to find an art gallery, let alone one of the most cutting-edge in London. However, nestled between two such buildings is Whitechapel Gallery: gilded and stoic, with its name emblazoned on its sandstone walls in gold. The unlikely modern landscape built around this period building it is a testament to its ongoing relevance; not only is it one of the go-to venues in London for all things contemporary, it has also played a pivotal role in international art culture since its opening in 1901, being the first British gallery to exhibit Picasso’s controversial ‘Guernica’.
However, upon entering, you’re instantly transported to crisp, white interiors that wouldn’t look amiss in the most cutting-edge galleries of Berlin. The theme of surprise is one that continues throughout your journey of The Whitechapel Gallery, and with a constantly rotating collection of exhibitions, it’s guaranteed to be a different experience every time you visit. When Paradise Row visited, however, the main exhibition was ‘This Is How We Bite Our Tongue’, showcasing two decades worth of sculpture and installation from Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset; a duo infamous for their artistic social commentary, which is cutting and insightful in equal measure.
It’s only upon opening the frosted glass doors to The Whitechapel Pool, the first installation of this satirical journey, that the colossal scale of the installation hits you. Built especially for this leg of this exhibitions European tour, the actual-size indoor pool is a clever commentary on public space in the British political culture of austerity. It’s hard to imagine anything else being in the space, but next week the hall will be filled with brickwork and architectural sculpture, an indication of a versatile venue.
“It’s guaranteed to be a different experience every time you visit.”
Observing the ghost of a once public space was something we all agreed was fascinating and uncomfortable; what was once filled with water was now filled with deafening silence, and the echoes of the children singing from Ulla von Brandenburg’s exhibition made for an especially eerie atmosphere.
The rest of Elmgreen and Dragset’s exhibition is completely unpredictable, and one that contains a whole host of objects and characters that point their fingers at religion, sex, masculinity and even the art world itself. The exhibition is truly a must-see for any discerning East London art fanatic, but as the exhibition closes at the start of next week, we urge you to get your tickets before these wonderful pieces go to their next city to provoke and astound.
“The exhibition is truly a must see for any discerning East London art fanatic.”
Whitechapel Gallery is truly a feast for the eyes, from its immersive artistic experiences to the beautifully curated bookshop that specialises in all things art, design and fashion (I’d have spent the whole day in there if I could). Its next season promises to be just as provocative and exciting; ‘Is This Tomorrow?’ will see ten artists, sculpturists, illustrators and visionaries interpret their visions of the future, and it’s one the Paradise Row team will definitely be attending.
Words: Hannah Crosbie
Photography: Emilia Joye