Art can hold up a mirror to contemporary life, raise awareness about urgent issues or argue for change, as the artworks in this display demonstrate.
This opening room brings together two artists who use high-rise buildings as symbols for wider social, economic and political situations. Multi-storey buildings were embraced by city planners across the world from the mid-twentieth century as an alternative to urban sprawl that would transform neighbourhoods for the better. Rachel Whiteread’s series captures the destruction of concrete tower blocks in east London housing estates in the early 1990s. These images were made at a time of increasing social inequality and homelessness and record the failure of this utopian optimism.
Marwan Rechmaoui’s sculpture represents a high-rise building that still dominates the Beirut skyline. It was built as an office block but was unfinished at the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990) and became a sniper outpost. Too difficult and expensive to demolish, it now serves as an unofficial memorial to the conflict and its effect on the city.
Both Whiteread and Rechmaoui look at the trace of recent history on the contemporary city. Many of the artists shown in the following rooms are witnesses to society as it is. Others work towards social change. The belief that art can show us a better world is present here too. Artists have found many different means to express their ideas, whether forcefully communicating an explicit political message or inviting us to find our own way through layers of meaning.
Curated by Matthew Gale.