The work created by Rachel Whiteread (London, 1963) and collected for this exhibition -twenty-two pieces and projects carried out between 1988 and 1996- focus on and illustrate the tensions of an era that questioned minimalist ideas and relevant historical concepts in sculptural practice, such as the idea of monument.
Whiteread chooses a moulding technique not so much to build, but to show the inherent and enveloped emptiness of objects of daily use. Thus, although her sculptures can refer formally to artists like Carl Andre, Donald Judd or Cabrita Reis, conceptually they transcend the minimalist idea of the element in series and its symbolic link with the area of industrial object. Similarly, it distances itself from the artistic appreciation of the materials’ qualities, by using plaster, cement, resin or rubber.
By contrast Whiteread imagines herself to be in Bruce Nauman’s sphere, by converting the materialisation of empty space between objects into the constant and ultimate purpose of her work, as exemplified in One Hundred Spaces (1995), where the gap under the seat of one hundred chairs unfolds in an orderly manner, seen with resins of different colours.
In 1993 she becomes the first woman to win the Turner Prize with a controversial piece entitled House: an exact replica of "inner space" (as she calls her moulds) of a Victorian house in the East End of London, a work that was demolished a year later. This exhibition presents a selection of twelve photographs by John Davies about this project. Whiteread develops the idea of recreating the interior of a house with a mould years before in Spectrum (1990), in whose surface we can see "the geography that created the work" but where everything is finalised in a negative mold, as noted by the exhibition’s curator, Michael Tarantino.
The sculpture shows Whiteread’s purpose: subversion of the objects and the staging of everyday life’s dramas, where she questions the act of living. The result is that either the house, the bed, the Wardrobe (1988), the table (transparent table and chair, 1991) or the bathroom (Untitled. Bathtub and Untitled. Square sink, both 1990) are all elements that have lost their use.
Both the emptiness and the demolition imply an idea of absence, as her series of photographs Demolished (1996) about the demolishing of buildings illustrates. In this way, she makes the pillar of her work to make visible what the power of objects, architecture and urban speculation annihilates: living spaces.
The exhibition includes the Mould for the Holocaust Monument in Judenplatz, Vienna (1995), commissioned for an appeal to the memory of culture, by introducing the negative of the volume of the inside an imaginary library. In this case, history, location and commemoration combine, and she insists that the symbolic and conceptual significance is confined to the outside.
Tate Gallery, Liverpool (September 14, 1996 – January 5, 1997)
Reina Sofia Museum's Publications
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Ignacio Gómez de Liaño
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What Are We Doing Here?
Alternative Spaces in Madrid at the Turn of the CenturyMuestras documentales, Biblioteca y Centro de Documentación