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Rachel Whiteread to Put Gold-Leaf Frieze on Whitechapel Gallery

Rachel Whiteread at Whitechapel
Artist Rachel Whiteread poses in front of the Whitechapel Gallery. Whiteread has been commissioned to create a gold-leafed bronze frieze for the gallery facade, which will be ready in June 2012. Photographer: Lucy May/Whitechapel Gallery via Bloomberg.

Rachel Whiteread, the first woman artist to win the Turner Prize, has been commissioned to create a gold-leafed bronze frieze for the facade of London’s Whitechapel Gallery.

The frieze -- which will fleck the top of the facade with gilded leaves and branches -- will go on show in June, in time for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and will cost an unspecified total to which the Art Fund is contributing 200,000 pounds ($317,480), making it the largest donor.

“I specialize in making the unnoticed noticed,” said Whiteread, who lives in the surrounding East End area of London, at a Whitechapel Gallery news conference. She said the gallery’s location on a crowded thoroughfare had led hurried pedestrians to ignore its architectural features.

Whiteread is best known for a 1993 sculpture called “House”: a life-sized cast of the inside of a terraced East London home that was earmarked for demolition and torn down a year later. She won the Turner Prize in 1993.

Whitechapel Director Iwona Blazwick said Whiteread was chosen because “she always works with what’s there, and draws on the rich architectural heritage.”

“We were walking in the mountains in Italy when Rachel snapped a branch off a tree and said ‘This is it!’,” recalled Blazwick, describing the moment that the design was revealed to Whiteread. “We did a schedule there and then.”

Whiteread’s design echoes the existing Tree of Life motif on the century-old building’s terra-cotta facade. It also incorporates negative casts of a row of windows that once existed at that spot.

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