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Tate Britain: Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread  Untitled  ( Pink Torso ), 1995 © Rachel Whiteread Photo: Seraphina Neville and Mark Heathcote © Tate

Rachel Whiteread Untitled (Pink Torso), 1995 © Rachel Whiteread Photo: Seraphina Neville and Mark Heathcote © Tate

Jodie Haines

12 Sept. 2017 – 21 Jan. 2018

The Turner Prize has, at times, been a somewhat difficult award for me to wrap my head around, and I must admit that I entered this exhibition with a dose of scepticism. Fortunately, this uncertainty dissipated upon arrival. The space alone would have been enough to impress, with its angular ceilings and industrial appeal. Curators, Ann Gallagher and Linsey Young have created a remarkable exhibition that chronicles Rachel Whiteread’s career to date, including works cast in anything from resin to rubber, plaster to concrete.

Spanning three decades, the exhibition showcases a carefully curated selection of sculpture by the internationally recognised artist. Having been nominated for the Turner Prize in 1991 and becoming the first female winner of the prestigious accolade in 1993, Rachel Whiteread is a leading figure in a generation of sculptors, continuing to influence emerging artists worldwide.

Using her renowned casting method, Whiteread explores our relationship with everyday objects. While large, there is a deliberate emphasis on the human scale of her sculptures: impressive but never overwhelmingly imposing.

Though predominantly large-scale, Whiteread’s smaller sculptures have an equally captivating aesthetic. Coloured Objects – a series of small, vibrant forms displayed on white shelves – appealed to my weakness for decorative minimalism. The blend of opaque and translucent, smooth and textured, bright and dull made for an absorbing collection that I could have gawked at for quite some time.

Rachel Whiteread,  Stairs  (1995), Private Collection © Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread, Stairs (1995), Private Collection © Rachel Whiteread

Close observation reveals a surprising macabre element to some pieces. Torsos, for instance, cast from hot water bottles or medical enema bags, have a somewhat morbid sentiment, described by Whiteread as ‘headless, limbless babies’.

Examples of visual research and experimentation are also on show. The selection of sketches and samples offer a glimpse into Whiteread’s initial ideas and the creative process that eventually culminates in a final piece. 

The exhibition also presents a great opportunity to see brand new work from the artist, with her most recent piece, Chicken Shed, unveiled by Tate Britain, appropriately standing in the gallery’s garden.