Tate has acquired two works of major importance by Rachel Whiteread. The acquisition of Untitled (Rooms) 2001 and Untitled (Stairs) 2001 is among the most significant made by Tate in recent years and greatly enhances the gallery’s holdings of one of Britain’s principal living artists. Other than her outdoor public sculptures, these are the largest works Whiteread has created and both are being shown for the first time in the exhibition Days Like These at Tate Britain from 26 February. Untitled (Stairs) was purchased with funds provided by the National Art Collections Fund (The Art Fund) and Tate Members and Untitled (Rooms) with funds provided by Noam and Geraldine Gottesman and the Tate International Council. Tate is extremely grateful for their generous contributions and to the Anthony d’Offay Gallery for their support on this acquisition.
Untitled (Rooms) 2001. Tate.
Purchased with funds provided by Noam and Geraldine Gottesman and Tate International Council.
© the artist Photo: © Tate PhotographyUntitled (Stairs) 2001. Tate.
Purchased with funds provided by the National Art Collections Fund and Tate Members 2003.
© the artist Photo: © Tate Photography
Rachel Whiteread was born in 1963 in London. She studied at Brighton Polytechnic (1982-5) and the Slade School of Fine Art, London (1985-7). In 1993 she was commissioned by Artangel to make House, the cast of the inside of a Victorian terraced house in Bow, East London, which provoked considerable media and public attention. She was nominated for the Turner Prize for the first time in 1991, and won the prize in 1993. In 1997 she represented Britain at the Venice Biennale and she has made major sculptures for public locations in the USA and Europe including Holocaust Memorial 2000 in Vienna and Monument 2001 for the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Whiteread’s solo exhibitions include those at Tate Liverpool (1996), the Serpentine Gallery, London (2001) and most recently the Guggenheim, Berlin and New York (2001). She lives and works in London.
Since the late 1980s Whiteread’s work has focused primarily on the process of casting the negative space underneath, around or inside objects, using a variety of materials such as resin, plaster and rubber to make negative impressions of each chosen item. While clearly influenced by Minimalism, Whiteread’s work has often focused on archetypal everyday objects, such as tables, chairs, baths and beds, creating sculptures that retain the traces and resonance of human presence.
Whiteread began making architecturally-scaled works in 1990 with Ghost, the cast of an entire room. Untitled (Stairs) and Untitled (Rooms) further develop this element of Whiteread’s practice. Both are cast from Whiteread’s new studio and home in East London, a building on the site of a former Baptist church and latterly a synagogue. Untitled (Rooms) is one of two works Whiteread has cast from the flats on the first floor of the building. The work consists of a sitting room, a bedroom and bathroom, connected by a corridor to the front door. Its fabrication involved the complicated process of casting a multi-room structure. Among the most striking elements of the piece are the voids where the walls once stood, offering the viewer a glimpse of the spaces formerly occupied by light fittings and light switches. Untitled (Stairs) is one of three casts made from the industrial concrete staircases within the building. The cast is rotated when displayed so that the filled space is on its side, creating a feeling of disorientation in the viewer and emphasising the formal power of the work.
While earlier works have encouraged associative or poetic meanings, these are more concerned with formal issues such as the relationship between architectural space and the human body. This shift in practice is reinforced by the artist’s use of a blank release agent, which has left the surfaces of the sculpture largely free of the traces of past occupancy that exist in much of her previous work.
Both works will be shown in Tate Britain’s Duveen Galleries for Days Like These: Tate Triennial Exhibition of Contemporary British Art from 26 February – 26 May, a cross-generational exhibition of current art in the UK. Admission to the exhibition is free.
A special feature will appear on the works will appear at Tate Online, sponsored by BT, at www.tate.org.uk/collections/whiteread from 26 February.