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    This is Whitechapel (Ian Berry), 28 July – 3 September 1972. Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery.

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  • History 2

    Association of Students’ Sketch Club, 1931. Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery Archive.

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Whitechapel Gallery was founded in 1901 to present “the finest art of the world for the people of the East End, London”.

From the outset, the Gallery pushed forward a bold programme of exhibitions and educational activities, driven by the desire to enrich the cultural offer for local communities and provide new opportunities for extraordinary artists from across the globe, to showcase their works.

The Gallery boasts a rich history of firsts. In 1939, Pablo Picasso’s iconic painting, Guernica, was presented at Whitechapel Gallery, during its only visit to Britain, and the Gallery has consistently premiered ground-breaking shows from artists as diverse as Barbara Hepworth (1954), Jackson Pollock (1958), Helio Oiticica (1969), Gilbert & George (1971), Eva Hesse (1979), Frida Kahlo (1982), Sonia Boyce (1988), Sophie Calle (2010), Zarina Bhimji (2012), Emily Jacir (2015), William Kentridge (2016), Theaster Gates (2021) and Nicole Eisenman (2023).

Influential surveys and group shows include This is Tomorrow (1956), Liberty, Equality and Sisterhood (1978), From Two Worlds (1986), Woven Air (1988) Live in Your Head (2000), Back to Black (2005), Adventures of the Black Square (2015), Electronic Superhighway (2016), and most recently, Life is more important than Art (2023).

The Gallery is committed to identifying and supporting local and emerging artists through a range of initiatives and awards. The London Open, an open – submission triennial exhibition (first established in 1932), has served as a launch pad for many artists in the early stages of their career, including Anish Kapoor, Julian Opie, Cornelia Parker, Grayson Perry, Bob & Roberta Smith, Richard Wentworth, Rachel Whiteread and Antony Gormley; while the biennial Max Mara Art Prize for Women, (established in 2005) was set up specifically to support emergent UK based women artists through a solo exhibition and residency programme.

Since expanding its spaces in 2009, the Gallery’s capacity to show ambitious new work has dramatically increased, making way for enhanced exhibitions and commissions from living artists, and enabling the presentation of an even greater array of forms and technologies, from complex multi-media installations, large-scale performances, and new digital media.

The Gallery’s focus on bringing artists, ideas, and audiences together, remains as important today as it did over a hundred and twenty years ago and lies at the heart of the new Director, Gilane Tawadros (appointed in October 2022)’s ambitions as does its commitment to its local neighbourhood. Whitechapel is home to diverse, multi-cultural communities, from those who live, study and work locally in Tower Hamlets to international artists, thinkers, writers and academics who have brought an expanded perspective to the area.

We are proud to be a Gallery that is locally embedded and globally connected.  Our pioneering public programme of exhibitions, educational events and community activities have inspired millions over the years and offered dynamic models of engagement that have been adopted by cultural institutions worldwide.  From specialist projects and activities tailored towards young people, schools, families and local community groups to a forward-thinking public talks and events programme, we continue to set the standard for invigorated and inclusive engagement with contemporary art and has helped to cement the East End of London, as one of the world’s most exciting and diverse cultural quarters.

You can visit our Online Library, a collection of research texts on the history of the Gallery here. Additionally, there is a Historical Documents Collection, also available online, which contains old documents related to the Whitechapel Gallery directly, such as its Catalogues and Annual Reports or those with a wider historical importance. Please see it here.