Rachel Whiteread – newly opened Retrospective at Tate Britain until 21 January 2018

Chicken Shed  (2017), inspired by a chicken shed in Norfolk. Photo: Rachel Whiteread/Tate

Negative space sculptures

Whiteread is a contemporary English artist who creates mainly sculptures, usually casts of the inside of objects – negative space – which bear the marks of every day human use – eg “One Hundred Spaces” (pictured), an installation of 100 jewel-like resin casts of the undersides of chairs.

The first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993 with her “House” – a temporary public sculpture destroyed by the council 11 weeks later – Whiteread has been casting objects ranging in size from the inside of a hot water bottle and a tiny spoon, to sheds and outbuildings, for the past close to 30 years. “House” was a concrete cast of the entire inside of a 3 storey house excluding the roof. Some loved “House” and some hated it (The Independent lauded it as “one of the most extraordinary and imaginative public sculptures created by an English artist this century” while the chairman of the local council condemned it as a monstrosity.) “House” also won the K Foundation Art Award for the worst example of British art, twice the amount of the Turner Prize.

Tate Britain retrospective

Tate Britain’s retrospective looks at nearly 30 years of Whiteread’s negative space castings ranging from doors, hot water bottles, beds, a bee hive, a staircase, toilet rolls and more, in an array of materials and colours. The resins particularly allow for a range of colours, some translucent, and many of the works are eerily evocative of things past . “Untitled (Book Corridors)“, 1997-8, shows us three plaster casts of the spaces between library shelves – Whiteread seems as concerned with the ideas evoked by the object as its shape – the sense of the intellectual energy in the books compressed into the tightly packed shelves.

This idea is apparent also in her large outdoor Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, a cast of a library room with shelves filled with apparently identical but unnamed books, symbolising the fates and untold stories of the murdered Jews.

Whiteread’s art is undoubtedly important, but perhaps in danger of becoming repetitive, and although parts of the exhibition are intensely moving, it does also leave you intrigued to know what this powerful artist could do if she took her art in a new direction.

Further details here!

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