The controversy surrounding a restaurant at London’s Tate Britain museum has deepened. After many raised concerns over a mural lining the walls of the institution’s Rex Whistler Restaurant, claiming that its subject matter is racist, Tate’s ethics committee deemed the work “offensive,” according to the Art Newspaper, which reported the eatery could now face closure altogether.
The mural in question, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats (1927) by British painter Rex Whistler, depicts the enslavement of a Black child and stereotyped images of Chinese people, as well as scenes of violence. Commissioned by Tate Britain director Charles Aitken for the restaurant’s opening in the 1920s, the work was decried this summer, first by the website the White Pube and then by a widely circulated petition on Change.org that has garnered more than 7,000 signatures.
In a statement made in August, Tate contended that the mural, which was restored up in 2013 as part of a £45 million renovation effort across the entire museum, contained “deeply problematic racist imagery.” That same month, the museum removed mention of the restaurant as being the “most amusing room in Europe” from its website.
The signatories of the petition demanded that the museum remove the work. So far, Tate has not done so, though the restaurant is closed through autumn 2021 because of Covid-19. (Many of Tate’s other restaurants also remain shuttered for the time being because of the pandemic.) According to the Art Newspaper, the ethics committee told Tate trustees that the mural is “a work of art in the care of trustees and that it should not be altered or removed.”
Asked today, about the future of the restaurant, a Tate spokesperson told ARTnews, “As reported in the summer, we are taking this time to consult internally and externally on the future of the room and the mural, and we will keep the public informed of future plans.”