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Until this afternoon my opinion of the area of Whitechapel was not a great one. Having been to a couple of flat viewings there late last year the area brings to mind dirt, noise, crime, fast-food and that huge, empty hospital opposite the station. How nice then, to be proven wrong when I stumbled on the Whitechapel Gallery next door to Aldgate East tube station when walking back from a job interview earlier today.
The thing that first struck me about the space is how welcoming it feels. Unlike the vast caverns of the contemporary art galleries on the Southbank with which I am more familiar with, i.e. The Tate Modern and the Hayward gallery, you feel more as though you are stepping into somebody’s house.
The reception area divides off into several small rooms with exhibits, their cinema and an elegant dining room but my eye was drawn by the small winding staircase, inviting me upstairs. I peered into a room on my way to the stairs and stopped mid-step, a full length tree, completely hollowed out, lay end-to-end out across the room. On closer inspection, the ‘tree’ was in fact a bronze sculpture, painted realistically to resemble a tree by first sight but filled with a beautiful gold leaf. On even closer inspection, you can still see the fingerprints of those who sculpted it, left intentionally as tribute by the artist to their dedicated work. Strange, and yet beautiful.
The gallery continued to be full of surprises which is what I loved most about it. The small rooms, which all lead off one another mean constant discoveries. I walked from an exhibition collecting together the contributors of Aspen magazine (1965 – 1971), a quiet little space combining wood with stained and textured glass into a white-washed, windowless space filled with eyes and children’s voices. A slightly disorientating transition. Following this I discovered: a room filled with photos depicting the ‘natural pleasures’ of the photographers subjects; a room exploring time and our responses to it through old projections of news stands; a shelf of past and present science books, not under glass but just waiting to be opened; a room with nothing in it but a table and different sized bottles of an unidentifiable black liquid…
The Whitechapel is the kind of gallery you can get lost in. It encourages exploring. It requires wide eyes, an open and curious mind and your imagination.
They also make a lovely cup of tea and a delicious lemon and polenta cake!
[Image source: Wikipedia Creative Commons]
77-82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm (Until 9pm Thursdays)