Rachel Whiteread - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 13, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Gagosian Gallery, London

  • Exhibited

    London, Gagosian Gallery, Rachel Whiteread: Sculpture, October 19 - December 3, 2005Dallas, Nasher Sculpture Center, Rachel Whiteread Drawings, May 22 - August 15, 2010

  • Literature

    Rachel Whiteread: Sculpture, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London, 2005, pp. 42-43 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “I don’t think it’s going to be like a room full of cardboard boxes. It’s going to be a room, I would imagine, full of light and space and built elements, and you’ll figure out what they are, but it might take a bit of time to do that. It’s going to be a spectacle, and theatrical, and it has to be.” Rachel Whiteread, 2005

    Rachel Whiteread’s Block from 2005 is a continuation of the artist’s relentless examination of what happens to objects when they are replicated, not exactly as they were, nor as they appear externally, but what the space contained within them is like. Her first major breakthrough, Ghost from 1990, was a full-scale casting of the interior of a room within an old London house, very similar to the one in which she grew up. Subsequently, Whiteread proceeded to cast the entirety of a house in October, 1993. House generated much critical response and went on to win Whiteread the Turner Prize for best young British artist in that same year.

    Whiteread’s casts reference her sculptural predecessors from Minimalism to Conceptualism and borrows from them a particular reductive, visual language, but, in opposition to their untouched and industrial nature, Whiteread’s works retain a distinctly human quality. Her choice of material, whether plaster, resin or rubber, lends the work a relatability and fragility that echoes the imperfect spaces created by traces of human life. Born not from an emotionally austere framework, Whiteread’s practice instead reflects an intensely personal narrative. Her work deeply investigates the inner life of the rooms and objects which make up the fabric of our surrounds – those objects which are present and tangible yet commonly ignored or overlooked. These are the objects which assume the pentimenti of daily life, objects that are imbued with collective histories just by their very nature and presence.

    In 2005, Whiteread’s mother passed away at a time when the artist was already managing a number of other tumultuous life-events such as moving her own house and studio, as well as the birth of a son. She was awarded the commission to the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern and set about trying to conceive of a work that would succeed in such a voluminous space. Instead of casting the Hall itself, or other similarly large structure, she instead looked for an object which could be used as a standard unit of construction. Whiteread ultimately settled on the cardboard box and cast thousands upon thousands of these objects – these remnants of the self-same boxes had become so emotionally (and physically) loaded in the process of managing her mother’s affairs after her passing, as well as Whiteread’s own various personal disruptions. “My mother’s house was still full up of stuff. And my house was still full up of stuff from having moved and still having the builders in. so [sic] I was in this place of literally not being able to unpack my life, my mum’s life – my parents’ lives.” (R. Whiteread quoted in “So Rachel Whiteread, what’s with the boxes?” The Guardian, October 11, 2005, p. 44)

    Block from 2005 is directly related to this installation and was exhibited concurrently in Gagosian Gallery’s London space. Block encompasses the same pathos and intimacy which these boxes at the Tate came to represent. The liminal space of the original material of the box, that slip of cardboard between the outside world and those objects contained within, became, in essence, the skin of another being. The relics of her and her mother’s personal history packed inside the original boxes are thus transformed into the physicality of her work. The boxes, loaded as they were, reflected the direct impressions of those objects which they formerly held. In casting the boxes from the interior with plaster, the same possessions are thus reflected in these finished sculptures. There is a deeply personal reflection embodied within these beautifully post-Minimal white boxes. Interestingly, Whiteread’s sculptures such as Block are not as physically imposing and immediately emotive as some of those titanic Minimalist works, but rather unfold gradually and gracefully before the viewer. Those emotional histories become manifest in her sculptures, new boxes packed up, moved out, and discarded, and yet, in their physical presence, immortalized and memorialized.

    As opposed to the brute force of Minimalism, Whiteread’s sculptures function more akin to the ghostly presences embodied in the perfectly reproduced sink sculptures of Robert Gober. Though representing a different, but likewise deeply personal history, Gober’s sinks are immediately recognizable as the household appliance they are intended to represent. Yet, upon reflection, their physical dysfunction becomes more apparent, not simply as a matter of fact, but as a matter of intent. These sinks, just as Whiteread’s boxes, are repositories of a particularly intimate and acute history. Whiteread casts the empty space of the original cardboard boxes in solid works of plaster whereas Gober leaves his sinks intentionally empty. And yet, the experience and emotional gravity embodied in each is similarly impressive and poignant.

    Whiteread has utilized a sort of lost-wax casting coupled with the idea of the found object, resulting in a formally astute and new type of sculpture. The artist’s inimitable ability to transform and engage with these objects on a deeply personal level by illuminating and manifesting their interiors tangibly and materially, clearly differentiates the box series from much of her prior work. The physical and expressive sphere within which Block operates, as fully in the round and representative of both objective histories and more abstract emotional memories, established Whiteread as one of the most innovative and timeless sculptors practicing today.


Ο ◆26


plaster, painted steel, laminated wood
55 1/2 x 55 1/8 x 29 1/2 in. (141 x 140 x 74.9 cm)

$150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for $125,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Evening Sale 14 May 2015 7pm