Tomorrow never quite came

Phoenix Will Rise by artist Rana Begum and Marina Tabassum Architects at the Whitechapel Gallery's Is This Tomorrow exhibition

60 years after the Whitechapel Gallery first asked architect-artist collaborators to predict the future the mood is much gloomier, says Daniel Elsea

Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition Is This Tomorrow? consists of 10 new installations that are collaborations between architects and artists. It comes more than 60 years after the landmark exhibition This is Tomorrow which, in the same gallery, brought together architects such as Ernö Goldfinger and Alison and Peter Smithson with artists like Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi. Working in groups, they created a series of works and displays which projected into the future, imagining new possibilities.

The 1956 exhibition is considered widely influential. Its juxtaposition of media and disciplines was innovative for the time, a method that has since become a norm in the display of art; and the topics it explored, from mass pop culture to new advances in science and technology, remain preoccupations today. Perhaps the most famous piece created for the show, Hamilton’s emblematic work, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, summed up the ethos of the whole proposition. An assemblage of media set in a new domestic architecture, a playful observation of changing tastes, it epitomised an optimistic post-war aesthetic with a dash of the erotic. It’s a pity that in the 2019 version, nothing can be found to quite match its allure.

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