The Whitechapel Gallery was designed by Charles Harrison Townsend and opened in 1901 as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary art exhibitions in London.
The gallery exhibited Pablo Picasso’s Guernica in January 1939 to raise money for the Spanish Republican cause. Labour Party leader Clement Attlee opened the exhibition and despite the galleries working class, East End location 15,000 visitors saw the painting in the first week, raising £250. Visitors were asked to donate a pair of boots as the price of admission, which would be sent to the Spanish front line. These were placed in front of the enormous picture and soon thousands of boots covered the floor of the gallery.
Picasso created Guernica to illustrate man’s cruelty during the Spanish Civil war. The picture is now behind bullet proof glass in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, while a tapestry copy hangs on the wall of the UN building in New York. So powerful is this picture that when Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the United Nations in February 2003, to gain approval for the war in Iraqi, the tapestry was hidden. Officials claimed it would be too 'visually confusing' for TV viewers.
“A German officer visited Picasso in his Paris studio during the Second World War. There he saw Guernica and, shocked at the modernist 'chaos' of the painting, asked Picasso: "Did you do this?" Picasso calmly replied: "No, you did this!" - Slavoj Zizek