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Who would take on the Tate’s Rex Whistler mural?

18 February 2022

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Rex Whistler’s mural The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats hasn’t been considered controversial for all that long. In fact, commentators Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad better known as White Pube started the clarion call to remove it from the restaurant at Tate Britain in 2020 – well, what else are you going to do during a pandemic?

As ever, there was much wringing of hands at Tate towers about what to do in the face of a petition asking for its removal, signed at time of writing by 7,478 people. The gallery has decided to create a committee or discussion group to explore what they should do. Everyone who is part of this discussion group seems to have the title of ‘co-chair’ so Rakewell can only imagine what level of cooperation there was during these talks.

This week saw the fruit of these discussions and what fruit it was. An announcement that the Tate would commission an artist to ‘create a new site-specific installation in the room, which will then be open to visitors as a display space. This new work will be exhibited alongside and in dialogue with the mural, reframing the way the space is experienced.’

But who on earth would take this on? It seems unlikely that an artist who is outraged by the work is going to spend their time on a commission that could be seen to justify it. When culture wars and politics come together in pursuit of art a vacuum is always the result (just look at the festival of Brexit). Any work in this room will be just a fig leaf so it’s no wonder that they haven’t yet announced an artist. It’s a poisoned chalice in the extreme.

There must be certain restrictions on this commission: it is unthinkable that a white artist should take it on; the artist is unlikely to be able to intervene significantly with the mural (it is part of Tate Britain’s Grade I listing) and presumably there’s not much of a budget. But perhaps that’s not the point. Perhaps the point is that an artist is being asked to do the work. If that’s the case then it does begin to feel like a case of artists of colour being asked to carry the can for a management that can’t quite work out what to do.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.