Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain

Remembering how much I had enjoyed Rachel Whiteread Drawings exhibition at Tate Britain in 2010, I wondered if I would find the current exhibition as exciting. I need not have worried.

Rachel Whiteread’s work has been much photographed but by offering visitors a view of most of the exhibition space from the entrance, the variety in scale, shapes and colour on show dispels any feelings of presumed familiarity.

   Untitled (Stairs),    2001

Untitled (Stairs), 2001

Untitled (Stairs), 2001 immediately attract the eye, instantly recognizable for what they are and yet disturbing in their unfamiliar orientation.  This inside-outside, back-to-front discomfort resurfaced several times as I worked the room.  What really was I looking at?  This mild bafflement encourages closer observation allowing a gradual recognition of fine details, an awareness of the quotidian offered with a difference.

The scale of the larger works is impressive and yet here too, it was the small details I found touching.  Looking at Untitled (Book Corridors) 1997, I wanted to walk through the spaces between the book shelves.  I thought I could see the lines of individual pages. The light here struck me as odd, disturbingly eerie, so possibly I couldn’t make out that degree of detail. Does it matter whether I could or not?  I wanted to, and I felt I could.

The smaller objects offered on shelves were new to me and held my attention.  Who would have thought the inside of loo rolls could be so interesting?

  Line Up    2007-2008

Line Up 2007-2008

The act of repeatedly casting the same object and presenting the results as a series, sometimes with a variation in textures and colours, calls for further investigation.  Repetition flirts dangerously with boredom.  So why do so many artists use repetition and make works built from repeated elements?  This is a question filed away under the heading of ‘What is Art?’ and one that I suspect will result in another blog post. 

I found myself puzzled by the casts of hot water bottles:  one on its own near the entrance to the exhibition and a series on a long shelf further into the room. 

  Torso  1988        

Torso 1988        

Had Torso been untitled, as much of Whiteread’s work is, would I have given this piece as much consideration?  Something else to think about:  the power of a title.  I wonder why this torso is offered with the protection of an acrylic box.  Is it more fragile, more precious than other works?  Is the presentation signaling something to the viewer?  Looking at the shelf with nine casts of hot water bottles, I compared them to each other and looked for the differences in a clinical way, wondering about materials and decoration, which includes silver leaf!

The casts of doors and windows left me unmoved.  They were presented away from each other and appeared unrelated.  In the vast exhibition room, I thought of builders’ merchants.  They looked smooth and glossy and somehow devoid of character and I wonder if the lighting did them a disservice, perhaps not showing them at their best.

The works on paper were a joy and took me back to Drawings.  Looking at these, I was conscious of the artist's own hand, which appears absent in the large cast pieces which require a team of experts to create.

Suffice to say that I am looking forward to a return visit before long.

The exhibition is on at Tate Britain until 21 January 2018.