Tate Britain forms plan to keep offensive Rex Whistler mural

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The Tate Britain art gallery is to commission an artist to create a new work to sit alongside a 1920s mural that it says contains "racist imagery".

Rex Whistler's wall painting includes depictions of black slaves on a leash and caricatures of Chinese figures.

The room will no longer be used as a restaurant, as it had been for decades.

Instead, Tate said the new installation would "be exhibited alongside and in dialogue with the mural, reframing the way the space is experienced".

The London gallery has not yet chosen which contemporary artist will create the new work.

"It will also be joined by a new display of interpretative material, which will critically engage with the mural's history and content, including its racist imagery," Tate said.

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"It will explore the artist's life and career, responses to the work over time, and connections to wider historical contexts."

'Unequivocally offensive'

In 2020, the members of the Tate's ethics committee said they "were unequivocal in their view that the imagery of the work is offensive".

They said the work, titled The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, "should not be altered or removed", but noted the "uncomfortable juxtaposition of the mural and an eating space".

In Wednesday's announcement, Tate Britain Alex Farquharson director said: "The Rex Whistler mural presents a unique challenge. It has remained static on the walls of a restaurant for almost a century while the museum around it has constantly shifted.

"Tate Britain is now a place of ever-changing displays and commissions, where the past and present are juxtaposed, and where art is open to all.

"The mural is part of our institutional and cultural history and we must take responsibility for it, but this new approach will also enable us to reflect the values and commitments we hold today and to bring new voices and ideas to the fore."

Art critic Waldemar Januszczak said on Twitter that it was "about time" the gallery took action, but that it was "a muddled, time-wasting response".

He wrote: "Talk, talk, talk as usual. Just cover up the damn things. Or let me loose in there with a chisel!"

Zarina Muhammad and Gabrielle de la Puente, who make up art criticism duo The White Pube, told the BBC: "The mural does not need to be kept to be remembered; the mural certainly does not need to be continuously restored with millions of pounds worth of funding in order for us to discuss the problems within its imagery.

"We can still talk about the horrible things it stands for even after it is destroyed, and destruction isn't an end point. So it should go. Tate should stop defending it."

More on this story

  • Restoring the Tate's Whistler mural

    19 November 2013

    'In pursuit of Rare Meats'

Related Internet Links

  • Rex Whistler on Art UK

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