Press Release



A Christmas tree by Shirazeh Houshiary is unveiled today, 1 December 2016, forming the spectacular centerpiece beside a display of work by prominent British artists such as Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Alison Wilding, and marks the start of a new series of festive commissions for Tate Britain. This is the first Christmas tree at the gallery since work began on the new Tate Britain, which included the reopening of the main entrance on Millbank when a striking spiral staircase was installed in the Rotunda, and continues the tradition of marking the festive period with an artist commission, by reimagining the work Houshiary created for Tate over twenty years ago.

The work, which focuses on the tree’s natural qualities such as texture, colour, smell and shape, hangs upside down from the glass ceiling in the Millbank entrance, its roots exposed and covered in gold leaf, drawing light and attention to what is usually underground. In 1993 Houshiary described her tree for Tate Britain as ‘taking earth back to heaven’. She says now, ‘I would like us to contemplate that the pine tree is one of the oldest species and recognise the roots are the source of its continued stability, nourishment and longevity. As the roots remain hidden, it is best to seek what is hidden rather than what is apparent. As a Buddhist monk wrote, ‘An old pine tree preaches wisdom’.’ The 2016 tree is suspended down the centre of the staircase, toward the public spaces below. The tree’s placement in the new space will offer the viewer an altered perspective from three levels of the gallery; the tip of the tree from the lower floor, the floating body from the ground, and the glittering roots opening out in an abstract star formation when viewed from the upper floor. 

The tree is installed in the Rotunda, which leads through to the Duveen Galleries of Tate Britain, where a new display, Sculpture as Object, features work by contemporaries of Houshiary. These artists, Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Tony Cragg, Richard Wentworth, Bill Woodrow, Shelagh Cluett, Richard Deacon, Jacqui Poncelet, Alison Wilding and Houshiaryemerged in the 1980s and achieved international recognition for their new approaches to sculpture. Reflected in the symbolism of the Christmas tree, Houshiary’s piece in the Duveen Gallery reinterprets western sculpture in the light of Sufi poetry and ancient writings from east and west on philosophy, religion and astronomy.Kapoor uses pure pigment to highlight the spiritual and symbolic values associated with colour; while spiritual concerns also underpin Gormley’s exploration of the physical confines of the body. Shelagh Cluett draws our attention to the physical process of fabrication, as sheets of metal are hammered or bolted into shape while Wilding similarly creates a tension between the nature of materials and their transformation into sculpture.

Alex Farquharson, Director Tate Britain said, ‘We are delighted to show Shirazeh Houshiary’s Christmas tree this year, alongside fellow prominent international UK-based artists in the Duveen Galleries. This unveiling marks a pivotal moment for the festive season at Tate Britain by looking to the past in order to look to the future. This tree fits the new space perfectly, allowing a different generation to experience the majesty of Houshiary’s work in the striking setting of the new entrance and staircase, and signals the beginning of an exciting era of annual Christmas artist commissions at Tate Britain.’

The tree is unveiled amid a host of festive performances and activities at Tate Britain. Over the weekend of the 2 and 3 December there will be special viewings of Tate Britain’s celebrated Turner Collection by torchlight, pop-up performances from the ENO chorus, festive tours of the collection, and children’s story-telling.

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Shirazeh Houshiary was born in Iran in 1955. Having moved to London in the early 1970s Houshiary graduated from the Chelsea School of Art in 1979. She was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1994. She currently lives and works in London.

Christmas Tree 2016 by Shirazeh Houshiary opens on 1 December in the Millbank Entrance of Tate Britain and is exhibited with support from Lisson Gallery. Sculpture as Object is curated by Clarrie Wallis, Senior Curator of Contemporary British Art, and Elsa Coustou, Assistant Curator Contemporary British Art. Following the Turner Prize giving on 5 December at Tate Britain, the exhibition will reopen in full to show work by Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, Jacqui Poncelet, Richard Wentworth and Bill Woodrow.


Turner by Torchlight
Tate Britain, from the Manton Foyer
16.00 – 16.30, 16.30 – 17.00, 17.00 – 17.30, 17.30 – 18.00 Saturday 3 December 2016
Free: first come first served
A special festive tour of the largest collection of Turner’s work in the world, part of BP Displays, with one of Tate’s Turner experts

Music from the ENO Chorus
Tate Britain, Rotunda, Octagon and Members’ Room
15.00 – 15.20, 15.30 – 15.50, 16.10 – 16.30 Saturday 3 December
First two performances open to all, third performance members only
The ENO chorus will sing festive music by composers such as Palestrina, Britten, Poulenc and Purcell as well as classic Christmas carols in Tate Britain’s Rotunda and Octagon, in the Millbank entrance

A Christmas Story Time: The Five of Us and Three Little Owls by Quentin Blake
Tate Britain, Manton Foyer
11.00 -11.30 and 14.00 – 14.30 Saturday 3 December
Free, Age 3+
Family storytelling with Jennifer Wakely of a special Christmas story by Quentin Blake

Kids Eat Free
Tate Britain, Djanogly Café
With each adult main course purchased in the Tate Britain café
Offer runs 2 - 4 December 2016

Family Studio
Working Tables
Tate Britain, Clore Studio
11.00 – 16.00 each day from 22 December 2016 – 2 January 2017
For families of all ages
Free. No booking required
Created by artist Abigail Hunt with the Early Years and Families team.