Seeing a great piece of art can take you from one place to another—it can enhance daily life, reflect our times and, in that sense, change the way you think and are.
In Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures and drawings, everyday settings, objects, and surfaces are transformed into ghostly replicas that are eerily familiar. Through casting, she frees her subject matter—from beds, tables, and boxes to water towers and entire houses—from practical use, suggesting a new permanence, imbued with memory.
During her childhood in London, Whiteread’s parents’ interests in art and architecture made an enormous impact on her understanding of form and material. Her father’s fascination with urban architecture “enabled [her] to look up,” and her mother’s artistic practice allowed her to see the intersection of home and studio, life and art. Whiteread fondly remembers helping her father lay a concrete floor in their basement to convert it into a studio. The processes of looking, emptying, and filling run throughout her work, revealing how the surfaces of daily life can disappear and reappear, bearing the traces of their previous lives.
Whiteread studied painting at Brighton Polytechnic and sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art in the 1980s. In 1988 she had her first solo exhibition, at the Carlisle Gallery in London, which included the sculptures Shallow Breath (1988), cast from the underside of a divan, and Torso (1988), the first in a series of cast hot water bottles. The Torso sculptures (1988–) are notably the only works in her oeuvre that make direct anthropomorphic reference. This exhibition marked the beginning of Whiteread’s use of domestic items; in these early pieces, she often left remnants of the original objects—such as scraps of wood—embedded into the cast forms.
Ghost (1990) was Whiteread’s first large-scale sculpture and set in motion the ambitious, architecturally scaled works for which she is widely recognized today. Made by filling a room of a Victorian house in North London with concrete to create a solid cast that picks up the details of the walls, mantle, and windows, Ghost is a positive room-sized object that reveals itself gradually, as one encircles the huge form. Whiteread expanded on this working method in House (1993; destroyed 1994), cast from an entire Victorian terrace house. Whiteread created this work after all the other terraces in the row had been demolished, and it stood alone as a reminder of the working-class homes that once spanned the street. The sculpture sparked heated debates around issues of real estate, class divisions, and urban sprawl.
Whiteread’s first public commission in New York, Water Tower (1998), was cast from one of the city’s distinctive rooftop water towers in clear resin. “On a cloudy, gray day,” Whiteread explained, “it might just completely disappear. And on a really bright blue-sky day, it will ignite.” This ethereal presence contrasts with the weight of her Holocaust Memorial (2000), permanently installed in Vienna. Dedicated to the 65,000 Austrian Jews murdered during the Holocaust, the sculpture resembles, in the words of James Lawrence, “a private library turned inside out,” each wall lined with rows of nameless books, with two permanently closed doors on the front. In 2018 Whiteread’s US Embassy (Flat pack house) (2013–15) was unveiled at the United States Embassy in London, where the cast sections of an average 1950s suburban American house, arranged as separate geometric planes on a wall, greet visitors as they enter through the consular court.
Cast of Characters
James Lawrence explores how contemporary artists have grappled with the subject of the library.
Shy Sculpture: Nissen Hut
Rachel Whiteread’s public sculpture Nissen Hut was unveiled in October 2018 in Yorkshire’s Dalby Forest. Curator Tamsin Dillon explores the dynamic history of these structures and provides a firsthand account of the steps leading up to the work’s premiere.
An exhibition at Gagosian, Paris, is raising funds to aid in the reconstruction of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris following the devastating fire of April 2019. Gagosian directors Serena Cattaneo Adorno and Jean-Olivier Després spoke to Jennifer Knox White about the generous response of artists and others, and what the restoration of this iconic structure means across the world.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2019
The Summer 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Afrylic by Ellen Gallagher on its cover.
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2019
The Spring 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Red Pot with Lute Player #2 by Jonas Wood on its cover.
Rachel Whiteread’s US Embassy (Flat pack house) was unveiled in its permanent home at the new American embassy in Nine Elms, London, earlier this year. Virginia Shore, the curator for the London embassy project who worked with Whiteread to realize this site-specific commission, reflects on the history of prefabricated housing, the power of “home,” and the connecting force of art.
Solid Recollections: Rachel Whiteread
James Lawrence explores the quiet power and critical role of memory in Rachel Whiteread’s public works.
Ed Ruscha to kick off new season of Gagosian’s online series
Launching September 16, 2020
Gagosian is unveiling a new vision for the Artist Spotlight series that will operate independently of our exhibition program. This will cement the platform’s status as a vibrant aspect of the gallery’s programming that allows artists to operate imaginatively beyond the physical exhibition format.
The second season of Artist Spotlight—a series that focuses on an individual artist for one week each month—premieres on September 16, 2020, with a new project by legendary artist Ed Ruscha. A selection of works by preeminent artists—including John Currin, Takashi Murakami, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, and Rachel Whiteread—will debut this fall. For updates, please contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed Ruscha. Photo: Sten Rosenlund
Rachel Whiteread has been awarded a damehood in Queen Elizabeth II’s 2019 birthday honors list. The annual honors mark the reigning monarch’s official birthday by recognizing individuals whose outstanding and longterm achievements have contributed to the United Kingdom.
Rachel Whiteread with her sculpture Detached I (2012) at Gagosian, Britannia Street, London, 2013. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Art Basel Hong Kong 2019
March 29–31, 2019, booth 1C18
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong 2019, with works by Georg Baselitz, Edmund de Waal, Urs Fischer, Katharina Grosse, Andreas Gursky, Duane Hanson, Damien Hirst, Thomas Houseago, Yayoi Kusama, René Magritte, Giorgio Morandi, Takashi Murakami, Albert Oehlen, Nam June Paik, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, Rachel Whiteread, Jonas Wood, Christopher Wool, Zao Wou-Ki, Zeng Fanzhi, and others.
Zeng Fanzhi, Rooster, 2019 © 2019 Zeng Fanzhi
Photography’s Last Century
The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection
Through November 30, 2020
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
This exhibition celebrates the remarkable ascendancy of photography in the last century, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee’s promised gift of over sixty photographs in honor of the Met’s 150th anniversary in 2020. The collection is particularly notable for its breadth and depth of works by women artists, its sustained interest in the nude, and its focus on artists’ beginnings. Work by Gregory Crewdson, Andreas Gursky, Man Ray, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, and Rachel Whiteread is included.
Gregory Crewdson, Untitled, 2005 © Gregory Crewdson
September 7, 2019–March 8, 2020
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens
Using various materials to articulate the negative space surrounding or contained by objects, Rachel Whiteread has elaborated various approaches to casting and impression as subject, process, and vehicle for content. In this solo exhibition, Whiteread is exhibiting a 2010 series of five outdoor stone sculptures, cast from the voids under different chairs.
Rachel Whiteread, Untitled, 2010 © Rachel Whiteread
Objects of Wonder
From Pedestal to Interaction
October 12, 2019–March 1, 2020
ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Denmark
Objects of Wonder features sculptural works from 1960 until the present. The exhibition, conceptualized in collaboration with Tate, London, showcases recent sensory or thought-provoking sculpture and experiments. The audience encounters a series of works that challenge the genre, where tactility, context, and light play a central role. Work by Damien Hirst, Bruce Nauman, and Rachel Whiteread is included.
Installation view, Objects of Wonder: From Pedestal to Interaction, ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Denmark, October 12, 2019–March 1, 2020. Artwork © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2019
Rachel Whiteread in
October 6, 2019–January 26, 2020
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel
Resonating Spaces aims to create a specific quality of spatiality in very varied forms—acoustic, sculpted, and drawn. Although different from one another, the works in the show create spaces rather than being perceived as single objects only. They induce sites and respites in which the capacity of remembering is elicited and images and memories come to life. Work by Rachel Whiteread is included.
Installation view, Resonating Spaces, Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, October 6, 2019–January 26, 2020. Artwork © Rachel Whiteread