The Whitechapel Gallery Centenary Review (2001) centennial catalogue accompanied the exhibition in the gallery, with specially commissioned essays by Jonathan Jones, Jeremy Millar, Guy Brett, Mark Francis, Catherine Lampert, Jon Newman, Juliet Styen, Marco Livingstone, Felicity Lunn, Paul Bonaventura, Janeen Haythornthwaite, Brandon Taylor, Rachel Lichtenstein and Alan Dein.
Rachel Lichtenstein and Alan Dein's collaborative essay for this review, University of the Ghetto, developed out of a commission from the Whitechapel Gallery in 2000 to create an oral history archive of memories of the Whitechapel Library (1892 - 2005). Over the following two years they interviewed readers, librarians and former users of the library. This essay documents a small part of a much larger project.
The Whitechapel library has served a vital role for Whitechapel’s immigrant population for over a century now. Starting with the Jewish community who were its main users from its opening in 1892 to the start of WWII. During this time the library’s reading room was one of East London’s liveliest spaces. It was filled with the sound of schoolchildren discussing their homework and their parents and grandparents arguing in Yiddish over politics, literature and religion. It had a strong ghetto feeling about it, most of us being Jews coming from the same part of Russia.
The Whitechapel Arts group used to meet there in the reference library. Joseph Leftwich told me this, he was a survivor and he told me he met Jacob Epstein the sculptor there, Rosenberg the poet. They all met there, it was a marvellous training ground for these young immigrants, they got a higher education there that most couldn’t afford. The intellectual elite among the Jewish immigrants met in the library not in the synagogues: Rosenberg, Mark Gertler, Bomberg, the poet Rodker and Jack Bronofoski.'