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Whitechapel Gallery: 'The extension reinforces the gallery as an artist's resource'

Artist and curator Michael Craig-Martin gives his verdict on the new-look Whitechapel Gallery

This will be the third time I’ve worked at the Whitechapel Gallery: I had a retrospective in 1989 and an exhibition called ‘Drawing the Line’ here in 1995. The Whitechapel has always felt like an artist’s gallery, and I feel completely comfortable here.The extension seems to reinforce the gallery as an artist’s resource. I’m hanging my show in a beautiful, top-lit room used solely for the showing of collections – a good addition to a gallery that doesn’t have a permanent collection.

The feel of each gallery space is completely different to the others. The commissions gallery on the ground floor is very large and all the walls are raw brick – it’s just an amazing space. What’s nice about it is that you can imagine coming here and going round the corner and finding yourself in a place you never knew existed. It’s got a sense of surprise to it.

The Whitechapel Gallery is quite far east in London. There may be far more going on here – the neighbourhood is much richer now than it used to be; the City presses up against it much more heavily – but there’s still the feeling that you come out of the tube station and fall from the street into the gallery. There’s nowhere else so attached to its locale.

The Whitechapel Gallery pioneered the idea of engaging with the local community, and I think that idea has been built upon with this project. It’s not the Serpentine Gallery, it’s not the Tate – it proposes a very different role, and it will be very interesting to see how people use it and how that’s played out. It’s a great new resource for the city.

Michael Craig-Martin is an artist and curator of the exhibition British Council Collection: Great EarlyBuys, which will be on show at the Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London E17QX, from 5 April-14 June. www.whitechapelgallery.org

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