Museum  September 18, 2018  Chandra Noyes

Rachel Whiteread Survey Makes US Debut

© Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread, Ghost, 1990, plaster on steel frame. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of The Glenstone Foundation

Through her iconic casts of domestic objects and spaces, Rachel Whiteread has created a language of her own, one that subtly tells stories about the quiet moments of our lives and the places they are lived out. The more than 100 objects on display in her survey at the National Gallery of Art make it clear that throughout her 30-year career, Whiteread has honed this voice, and used it to tap into our intimate memories and feelings related to home.

Courtesy the artist © Rachel Whiteread. Image courtesy the artist/ Gagosian, London/ Luhring Augustine, New York/ Galleria Lorcan O’Neill

Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Pink Torso), 1995, pink dental plaster.

Rachel Whiteread travels from the Tate in London, bringing a range of works that represent the full scope of her practice. The showing of the survey at the National Gallery is buoyed by the inclusion of their own Ghost (1990), one of Whiteread’s first monumental casts and a prized possession of the gallery. Before this piece, Whiteread had been casting the space around common domestic objects, like chairs, and the space underneath a bed, attempting to capture the air around the objects, and all the interactions and emotions their owners had had with them. For Ghost, Whiteread cast the entire interior of a room in plaster. The house was set to be demolished, and in creating the cast, Whiteread sought to preserve some of the memories connected to the home.

After Ghost, Whiteread moved on to larger objects, casting in concrete the interior of a Victorian home slated for demolition. The resulting sculpture, House (1993), won her the Tate’s Turner Prize, making her the first woman to do so. Whiteread has continued to explore the negative spaces around objects big and small, creating monuments to places and things we may take for granted.

Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Domestic), 2002
© Rachel Whiteread. Image courtesy the artist/ Gagosian, London/ Luhring Augustine, New York/ Galleria Lorcan O’Neill

Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Domestic), 2002, cast plaster on various armatures. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York. Owned jointly by Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; George B. and Jenny R. Matthews Fund and Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The Henry L. Hillman Fund, 2006.

Rachel Whiteread, Ghost, Ghost II, 2009
© Rachel Whiteread 2018 Photo: © Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Rachel Whiteread, Ghost, Ghost II, 2009, polyurethane (fourteen parts). Agnes Gund Collection.

Rachel Whiteread, circa 1665 (I), 2012
© Rachel Whiteread. Image courtesy the artist and Mike Bruce

Rachel Whiteread, circa 1665 (I), 2012, resin. Private collection.

Rachel Whiteread, Study for "House", 1992
© Rachel Whiteread. Image courtesy the artist/ Gagosian, London/ Luhring Augustine, New York/ Galleria Lorcan O’Neill

Rachel Whiteread, Study for "House", 1992, correction fluid and pencil on color photocopy (two parts). Courtesy of the artist.

Many of her objects do indeed resemble ghosts, with their plain, muted colors and understated simplicity. In documenting spaces that are to be destroyed, Whiteread preserves the past, and reminds us to cherish the quiet, everyday moments that so easily slip away.

Rachel Whiteread is at the National Gallery of Art through January 13, 2019.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra is managing editor for Art & Object.