British artist Dame Rachel Whiteread has been awarded the 2022 Robson Orr TenTen Award by the Government Art Collection (GAC) for her work reflecting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Every year, the GAC commissions a British artist to create a unique, limited edition print to be shown in diplomatic buildings across the world, with the support of philanthropists Sybil Robson Orr and Matthew Orr.
Turner Prize-winning Dame Rachel, 59, has created Untitled (Bubble), a lithograph said to reflect the microscopic form of Covid-19 and a time during the height of the pandemic when physical contact and communication became reduced to those within people’s bubbles.
Speaking about her work, Dame Rachel said: “The print Untitled (Bubble) is a culmination of thoughts since the beginning of the Covid pandemic in March 2020.
“Illustrating what was commonplace to the world’s population, the bringing together of friendships, family and love as well as grief and animosity; but ultimately all sharing a common purpose.”
Established in 1899, the GAC is a national collection of historic, modern and contemporary British art displayed in government buildings in the UK and elsewhere in the world.
The circular motifs on Dame Rachel’s print were first used by the artist in a print commissioned for the London 2012 Olympics, which is also in the GAC, to mark a moment of celebration and unity.
Dame Rachel’s latest work uses the circles for a different effect – to suggest the traces of an invisible virus and a feeling of being cut off from human contact.
In denser areas of the print, where it is possible to see “a bubble within a bubble within a bubble” as the artist describes it, Dame Rachel intended for the original concept of celebration from London 2012 to linger and possibly remind people of the moments in which they were reunited with loved ones.
Dame Rachel created the print by layering different hues of monochrome ink and adding watercolour marks by hand to build up thin washes of colour.
After growing up in Ilford, Dame Rachel has continued to work and live in east London for much of her life.
In 1993, she became the first woman to win the Turner Prize for her project House – a life-sized cast of a terraced house in London’s East End, which was later demolished to make way for new developments.
She has also produced work for a number of important public commissions with Water Tower in New York, the Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, Monument for the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square and Cabin for Governors Island, also in New York.
She was made a dame in the Queen’s 2019 Birthday Honours for services to art.
Arts minister Stuart Andrew said: “Rachel Whiteread’s brilliant work is a timely reflection on the challenges we all faced through the pandemic and she is a worthy winner of this year’s Robson Orr TenTen Award.”
The GAC has also announced a collaboration with the charity Artists in Residence.
A new scheme, supported through additional funds from the Robson Orrs, will connect TenTen prints and commissioned artists with schools across the UK to co-design and carry out bespoke projects with pupils and their teachers.
The project is expected to reach hundreds of school children in its first year, while also supporting artists and developing opportunities for teachers.