Feb 17, 2010

Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread is one of the artists I learned about in my very first art history class.  I can still remember how I felt when I first saw an image of her piece, a cast of the interior of a row home in London's East End, called Home.

This piece is so fascinating to me, yet so sad at the same time.  It feels almost forlorn is the best word I can think to describe it.  Whiteread is now known for her castings in resin and plaster of familiar objects and the spaces they surround.  By showing us what the empty space looks like as an actual form, it changes our perspective.  It also has an ephemeral quality to because by looking at it, you understand that the place it was cast from had to be destroyed in order for it to be made (at least that's the assumption I always made, I could be wrong).

The first piece of hers I saw in person was this cast of stairs at the Venice Biennale in 2007. Seeing this sculpture in person is highly disorienting.  My eyes were drawn the logical part first, the cast of the stairs going upwards, then to the inverted stairs.  It actually took me a while to realize that the stairs that looked to me like they were the 'right' way, were in fact the part of the sculpture that had been inverted!  Its the part that looks upside down that truly is the cast of the stairway.  Amazing, I really loved seeing this piece. 

She's done casts of stairs before, one sculpture is in the collection of the Tate Modern.  About these stair sculptures she says "When I was first thinking about making [it] I didn’t necessarily want to illustrate it as a staircase ... I wanted to try to do something a bit less literal. I wanted to change the way one might think about how you walk around or through something ... when we first put the staircase work up in the studio ... I was struck by the sense of physical disorientation it gave me."
(Quoted in Transient Spaces, pp.50-1).  Very cool, I always love hearing what artists have to say about their own work.

What prompted this post is that I read that the Museum of Modern Art recently re-installed her piece Water Tower on their roof.  

Water Tower is described by MoMA as "a resin cast of the interior of a once-functioning cedar water tower, chosen specifically for the texture this type of wood would impart to the surface."  I love that its cast in resin instead of cement or another opaque material.  Since it is slightly translucent it not only references the water that these structures usually hold, but tranfers qualities of the buildings and sky around it to the viewers.  Excellent piece, I hope to see it one day soon.

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