Iwona Blazwick, a force within the British art scene, will step down from her post after 20 years at the helm of London’s Whitechapel Gallery. She is set to finish out her time there in April, after which she will become an independent curator. Blazwick is expected to maintain a relationship with the Whitechapel Gallery into 2023.
Blazwick had proven herself a transformative force at the Whitechapel Gallery, dramatically growing its influence not only in London but the international art scene as a whole. She doubled the museum’s size with an expansion completed in 2009, and she made a priority of commissioning acclaimed artists to produce new work, among them Goshka Macuga, Leonor Antunes, and, most recently, Simone Fattal.
The Whitechapel Gallery has long had a reputation for mounting cutting-edge exhibitions, but Blazwick helped make the space’s programming even stronger. Under her leadership, the Whitechapel Gallery mounted Sarah Lucas’s first survey in London, the first major British exhibition for Hannah Höch, and the first retrospective for Isa Genzken. The space also staged open-minded group shows, including 2005’s “Back to Black: Art, Cinema, and the Racial Imaginary” and 2016’s “Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966),” which heralded a wave of shows about art after the internet.
Blazwick came to the Whitechapel Gallery after posts at the Institute of Contemporary Art London and Tate Modern, where she served as head of exhibitions and displays. In a 2006 Guardian profile, Blazwick recalled Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall “a rehearsal” for how she would lead the Whitechapel Gallery upon its expansion.
Before taking up more institutional roles, Blazwick had also been a director of New York’s storied feminist art space AIR Gallery, and she brought that same spirit to the Whitechapel Gallery. She made a priority of showing women artists and, in 2005, launched the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which has gone to figures like Laure Prouvost, Helen Cammock, and Andrea Büttner, all of whom went on to receive Turner Prize nominations later.
She had also held a post at the publisher Phaidon before joining the museum world. At Whitechapel, Blazwick launched “Documents of Contemporary Art,” a widely read book series published with the MIT Press that collects key writings on various themes and styles.
“Over the last two decades I have had the opportunity to exhibit, commission, and publish some of the world’s greatest artists; to lead the expansion of the Gallery; to forge relationships with international institutions and a huge range of cultural practitioners, important collectors, and philanthropists; and to work with inspiring colleagues,” Blazwick said in a statement. “As the Gallery emerges from the pandemic in a strong financial position and with programs admired and respected around the world, now seems a good time to hand over the reins!”