The Government Art Collection exhibitions 2011- 2013

During 2011-12 the Government Art Collection created five exhibitions of works of art from the collection for the Whitechapel Gallery in London, which then toured as one exhibition to Birmingham and Belfast in 2013.

The Procession passing the Queen Victoria Memorial, Coronation

© Queen's Printer and Controller of HMSO. Government Art Collection

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The idea behind creating a public exhibition of the Government Art Collection was to make this national collection more widely known and to give a sense of its richness and breadth. The Whitechapel Gallery in London was at the time hosting a series of exhibitions of works from national collections and therefore was the ideal venue to showcase works that are usually on display in British government buildings around the world. Five separate exhibitions were created for the Whitechapel Gallery, running consecutively from June 2011 to September 2012.

At Work featuring works selected by a group of ministers, diplomats and senior civil servants, including former Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, cast light on the intriguing role that art can play in politics and diplomacy.

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain curated by the artist Cornelia Parker presented a salon-style hang of works of art from the Collection arranged as a colour spectrum. The title of the exhibition playfully derives from the mnemonic of colours associated with the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.P>

Travelling Light was selected by the international cultural and political commentator, Simon Schama, who set out to explore how artists have travelled and how the experience of other cultures has enriched their work.P>

12 from No10 featured works selected by a group of staff from 10 Downing Street, who chose their favourite works of art from the many that have been on display in this London building.

Commissions: Now and Then focused on 60 years of commissioning by the Government Art Collection and showed how the Collection has worked directly with a range of artists in the development of their work.

After these exhibitions ended at the Whitechapel Gallery Revealed, a show comprised of all the works in the five displays, was created for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (November 2012 - February 2013) which subsequently toured to Ulster Museum, Belfast (March - June 2013).

Wherever the exhibition was held, it attracted a substantial amount of comments from visitors including:

A really interesting selection that helps me understand the value and purpose of the GAC

Fantastic to see Lord Byron - I've been waiting for years

Loved the idea of a show created by multiple parties, both people deeply involved with the Government, 'living' with the art on a regular basis… and 'impartial' externals (Parker, Schama) Well done!

We liked the piano and the rainbow paintings and the funny men on the tv

This was one of the best, most interesting, thought-provoking, entertaining exhibitions I've seen in ages

Great to see such a variety of art, old and new. The John Piper paintings are wonderful

I particularly liked the eclectic nature of the exhibits and the rainbow room

The fanfare from the pianola was hilarious!

In addition to the overwhelming response in the comments book, poet Barbara Morton wrote to us after visiting the show at the Ulster Museum. She described how she had returned 'again and again to view 'this wonderfully curated, intriguing collection' and sent us some poems she's written in response to specific works, two of which are reprinted here:

Norman Blamey
In the Cellar Mirror 1971

mirrors began to feature more
and the self in them

sometimes the same
sometimes recognisable albeitdifferent

glances deny their source

the character of one is truly revealed

an acting-out of the already known and


yet for so long imagined
to be otherwise


lessons from the class are kept secret

folded notes passed one to the other

William Turnbull
Blue Leaf Form

Turnbull's Blue

the fragility of the intellect
is a constant motif

classify the world

compulsively   but only

to make a mockery
of the whole futile business

© Barbara Anne Morton