A print inspired by the Covid pandemic will be displayed in government buildings in the UK and embassies abroad after Rachel Whiteread was announced as the fifth British artist to be commissioned by the Government Art Collection.
Untitled (Bubble) uses circular motifs reflecting the microscopic form of Covid-19 and a time when physical contact between people was reduced to bubbles. It was created with various domestic items and washing-up liquid.
The lithograph was “the culmination of thoughts since the beginning of the Covid pandemic”, said Whiteread, who won the Turner prize in 1993.
“I wanted to make something that looks like the traces of something. It could be the traces of the virus, traces of memories of people who passed away, of happiness, of loneliness.”
Whiteread said artists were among the “lucky people” during the pandemic. “You need to have time, quietness … It was a very creative time.” But “lots of people were nowhere near as lucky. The whole experience was very chastening.”
She is the latest winner of the Robson Orr TenTen award, a 10-year project to commission a unique, limited edition print to be shown in diplomatic buildings across the world.
Launched in 2018, the previous winners were Hurvin Anderson, Tacita Dean, Yinka Shonibare and Lubaina Himid.
Sponsored by philanthropists Sybil Robson Orr and Matthew Orr, the award “celebrates British artists and helps to promote and reflect our culture around the world”, said Stuart Andrew, the arts minister.
Whiteread’s work was a “timely reflection on the challenges we all faced through the pandemic”, he added.
The Government Art Collection, created in 1899, was “invaluable and irreplaceable”, said Andrew. “Artwork often draws out some very interesting conversations. There’s a great deal of soft power there.”
The collection includes more than 14,700 historic, modern and contemporary works. A selection is displayed in 360 UK government buildings in 127 countries, and all are available to view online. A viewing room at the collection’s London headquarters will open next year.
Fifteen prints of Untitled (Bubble) will be displayed in buildings around the world, and a further 11 will be sold to raise funds to acquire works by artists that are underrepresented in the Government Art Collection.