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Sunday, 3 June, 2001, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Whiteread's 'hands-on' approach
Rachel Whiteread
Rachel Whiteread: "Minimalism with a heart"
By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy

Rachel Whiteread first captured the public imagination with her life-sized cement cast of the inside of a terraced three-storey house in East London.

That was in 1993 and though House was destroyed the following year there was outcry and intense lobbying by the public to save it from the bulldozers.

Rachel Whiteread's House
Controversy surrounded the destruction of House
In 1993 Whiteread was awarded the Turner Prize and her prominence as one of the Britain's leading artists was assured.

She was part of the "YBA" (Young British Artist) movement, sponsored by Charles Saatchi, that made stars of the likes of Damien Hirst.

Domestic objects

Born in London in 1963, Rachel Whiteread began making her signature casts of the insides of ordinary domestic objects, like wardrobes, beds, floors and baths in 1988.

They have been described as "minimalism with a heart".

They look like extremely simple models, but in fact these are works that require vast amounts of technical know-how.

Whiteread is known to be a "hands on" artist - not one who employs legions of assistants to make her ideas reality.

"She is very particular about materials and there is a huge amount of crafting going on and she has to constantly think in reverse," says Patrick Elliott of Scotland's National Gallery of Modern Art who is co-curating an exhibition of her work.

And because the works are the insides of domestic objects, they can sound almost prosaic on paper but are curiously affecting in reality.

"If you think about the bath, it's where you are naked, relaxed and defenseless - and there is something about casting the space within the bath that just has a larger resonance," says Elliott.

It is this humanity to her work that has made her popular, such as covering a bed in a hessian before casting it, so as to give it a "hairy" texture.


If her smaller works are human and intimate, her public works are truly monumental.

Whiteread's Vienna sculpture
Whiteread's Vienna sculpture is widely considered a masterpiece
Whiteread's huge Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, unveiled after more than five years of bureaucratic bungling, is considered by many to be a masterpiece.

When it opened, art critic Adrian Searle said that it "demonstrated that art does have a place in the moral consciousness".

The memorial, Whiteread said at the time, aimed to "invert people's perception of the world and to reveal the unexpected."

Around the base of the memorial are the names of the concentration camps in which 65,000 Austrian Jews died.

Clear vision

Her clear resin cast of a water tower in New York sits on top of the Museum of Modern Art, beautifully reflecting changes in the weather.

A model of Trafalagar Square's new resident
Whiteread's sculpture for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is a cast of the inside space of the granite plinth itself.

It has been cast in water-clear resin and sits reversed on top of the original.

Patrick Elliott, of Scotland's National Gallery of Modern Art, who had a sneak preview of the carefully hidden sculpture predicts it will be another triumph for Whiteread.

"It's just a brilliant way of almost lampooning the pomposity of public sculpture, Whiteread's plinth celebrates itself" he said.

Whiteread's preparatory drawings for Monument are on display at Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London from 4 June to 21 July.

An exhibition of Rachel Whiteread's work will be on view at the Serpentine Gallery from 20 June to 5 August and at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art 29 September to 9 December.

See also:

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