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"Rachel Whiteread: Transient Spaces"
2001-10-27 until 2002-01-13
Guggenheim Museum, Berlin
Berlin, , DE

British artist Rachel Whiteread has created a unique body of sculpture in which ordinary domestic objects and architectural spaces are transformed into poetic, thought-provoking works of art. In the late 1980s, Whiteread began making casts from household items including beds, sinks, bathtubs, and wardrobes, emphasizing the private aspects of domestic life and reflecting the human body in symbolic terms.

Using industrial materials such as plaster, concrete, rubber, and polystyrene, Whiteread typically cast the space underneath, around, or inside these objects, creating negative impressions of the items she worked with. These familiar yet strange forms, which record the shape and surface of the original objects in detail, function like a death mask, often evoking feelings of absence and loss and conjuring up various personal memories and associations for the viewer.

Over time, Whiteread has expanded the scope of her output to include casts of larger architectonic spaces. In 1993, the artist created House, a concrete cast of the entire interior space of a Victorian-era working-class home located on an East London street. After the walls of the house were removed, a pale gray structure was revealed, standing like a ghost of its original form. Whiteread's Holocaust Memorial, another monumental piece, was unveiled in October 2000 in Vienna's Judenplatz. Devoted to the Austrian Jews killed during World War II, this monolithic structure-an impenetrable, inside-out library-alludes to Nazi book burnings and also makes symbolic reference to the people of the book, remarking not only on the Holocaust but the larger history of the Jewish people.

For Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, Whiteread has created two new sculptures cast from a London building she recently acquired. Devoid of architectural flourish, Untitled (Apartment) is comprised of a series of small, nondescript rooms, suggestive of the low-income, standardized housing that proliferated after the Second World War as Europe rushed to rebuild itself. For its companion, Untitled (Basement), Whiteread cast a staircase, which she reoriented by setting it on its side in order to create an uncanny sense of motion. Embodying the generic nature of much postwar architecture, the staid blocky form of both works emphasizes the simple geometry of the structures they were cast from, and also recalls the scale of 1960s Minimalist sculpture. Throughout its history, the London building from which these works derive has had a fluid identity, readily changing functions over time as required by its occupants, existing first as a synagogue, then a textile merchant's warehouse, and soon it will again be transformed, this time as Whiteread's new home and studio. Echoing the transient spirit of postwar culture, Untitled (Basement) and Untitled (Apartment) blur the distinctions between private and public, past and present, as well as religious and secular, recalling the aesthetic and economic concerns of that time.

In the early 1990s Whiteread began to receive international attention as part of a stylistically diverse group of artists known as the Young British Artists (YBA). Among her contemporaries, Whiteread has distinguished herself for creating an innovative body of work that reflects a quiet, contemplative spirit, receiving such accolades as the Tate Gallery's prestigious Turner Prize (1993) and an award at the 47th Venice Biennale (1997). Most recently, in the summer of 2001, Whiteread's work was the subject of a retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery, London, and a new public sculpture, Monument, was unveiled in Trafalgar Square.

Rachel Whiteread
Untitled (Basement)
Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, Berlin 2001
Photo: Mike Bruce

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