Display 5: Commissions: Now and Then

The fifth display of works from the Government Art Collection at the Whitechapel Gallery 21 June – 9 September 2012

Commissions: Now and Then looks at the important role the Government Art Collection plays in commissioning British artists to make new works of art. This display, a key part of the London 2012 Festival, marks 60 years of commissioning by the Government Art Collection and unveils a new interactive sculpture by Mel Brimfield inspired by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Brimfield's 4' 33” (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister) is a playful interactive sculpture that takes as its starting point the experimental music and performances of John Cage and British athlete Roger Bannister's fourth-placed position in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. A multi-layered score with echoes of everything from the British National Anthem to BBC TV's Ski Sunday theme tune has been specially composed for the project.

Mel Brimfield talks about her commissioned work 4' 33" (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister)

Video courtesy Department of Culture, Media and Sport

© Creative Commons Attribution licence

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Works in the exhibition, many being shown for the first time in a public gallery, date from 1949 to the present day. Highlights include L. S. Lowry's painting of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation procession in 1953 and John Piper's city scenes for the British Embassy in Rio de Janeiro in 1949. Catherine Yass' colour transparencies of the British Embassy in Paris in the day and evening light (1999) will be on display, as well as a pen and ink drawing by Donald Urquhart featuring an A to Z guide to Los Angeles (2010).

The display also includes works by artists including Edward Bawden, Andrew Grassie, Robert Holyhead, Runa Islam, Eduardo Paolozzi and Tom Phillips.

Shown alongside this is The Story of the Government Art Collection (until 2 September 2012) in the Pat Matthews Gallery (Gallery 4), displays items from the Collection's archives for the first time. Rare documents include papers detailing the loan of Winston Churchill's bust to the Oval Office in Washington from 2001 – 2008, and records of paintings hung in 10 Downing Street under Prime Ministers from the Duke of Wellington to John Major. A 1962 document records artist William Coldstream's proposal that the Whitechapel Gallery hold an exhibition of the Collection, while a World War II photograph shows the bomb damage to the State Rooms of 10 Downing Street.

This is the last in a series of five displays at the Whitechapel Gallery running from 21 June to 9 September 2012. Works from all five exhibitions will then tour to:

  • Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery from 16 November 2012 – 24 February 2013
  • Ulster Museum, Belfast from 15 March – 9 June 2013

Download the exhibition guide (PDF 1.85MB)

If you would like to find out where these works have been displayed around the world, go to our Display 5: Location Histories page.

Visitor Information:

Admission free

Opening hours:
Monday: CLOSED
Tuesday – Sunday: 11am – 6pm
Thursday: 11am – 9pm

Whitechapel Gallery
77–82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
T +44 (0)20 7522 7888
Nearest Underground station is Aldgate East

Related Exhibition Events

Please note that booking is essential for all events. Book through Whitechapel Gallery, email tickets@whitechapelgallery.org or telephone +44 (0)20 7522 7888

The Story of the Government Art Collection
3 March – 2 September 2012
Pat Matthews Gallery (Gallery 4)

Admission free
In 1899 it was the cost of decoration that prompted the use of art instead of wallpapers to cover the walls of government buildings. Today the Government Art Collection is one of the most important collections of British Art. Rare documents from the Collection's archives are displayed for the first time including a 1962 proposal by artist William Coldstream that the Whitechapel Gallery hold an exhibition of the Collection.

Gallery Talk: Philippa Martin on New Wall Papers: The Story of the Government Art Collection
Thursday 30 August, 7pm
Gallery 4 at the Whitechapel Gallery
Admission free
A curator-led tour of the current archive exhibition looking at the changing history of the Government Art Collection.

Tours: Government Art Collection
Wednesday 27 June and 25 July and Tuesday 21 August, 6.30pm
Government Art Collection, Queen's Yard, 179a Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7PA
Admission free, booking essential
A chance to go behind the scenes of this world class collection of British Art

Gallery Talk: Music and Movement
Thursday 2 August, 7pm
Gallery 7 at the Whitechapel Gallery
Admission free
Join Adrian George, Curator: Collection Projects, Government Art Collection, in conversation with artist Mel Brimfield, discussing her sculpture 4'33” (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister), commissioned for the current exhibition as part of the London 2012 Festival