tue 02/06/2020

Government Art Collection: At Work, Whitechapel Gallery | reviews, news & interviews

Government Art Collection: At Work, Whitechapel Gallery

Government Art Collection: At Work, Whitechapel Gallery

Political figures choose artworks from a rarely seen national collection

Paul Boateng tries to please the Treasury's 'bean-counters' with Bob and Roberta Smith's 'Peas Are The New Beans'All images courtesy of the UK Government Art Collection

It owns almost twice as many artworks as the Arts Council, and two-thirds of its 13,500-strong hoard is on display at any given time, yet it’s a collection the public never usually gets to see. Since its foundation in 1898, the Government Art Collection has been purchasing work by British artists not for the nation, but to hang exclusively in the corridors of power, from Downing Street to the British consulate’s office in Azerbaijan. Perhaps, in these cost-cutting times, it now feels impelled to justify its existence to the taxpayer by giving it a taster of its work – though, in all probability, the British taxpayer was probably unaware of its existence till now.

It owns almost twice as many artworks as the Arts Council, and two-thirds of its 13,500-strong hoard is on display at any given time, yet it’s a collection the public never usually gets to see. Since its foundation in 1898, the Government Art Collection has been purchasing work by British artists not for the nation, but to hang exclusively in the corridors of power, from Downing Street to the British consulate’s office in Azerbaijan. Perhaps, in these cost-cutting times, it now feels impelled to justify its existence to the taxpayer by giving it a taster of its work – though, in all probability, the British taxpayer was probably unaware of its existence till now.

Art as a civilising force still has its loyal army of advocates

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