21er Haus (Vienna, Austria): Rachel Whiteread
- Rachel Whiteread born 1963
- Polyester resin
- Unconfirmed: 204 x 2745 x 3930 mm
- Purchased 1996
Untitled (Floor) is a large sculptural installation comprising fourteen rectangular blocks, which are all made from polyester resin and arranged flat on the floor in two even columns of seven. The work was made by taking a cast of a wooden floor, so that the surface of each slab features a wood-grain pattern, and the sections are installed to loosely replicate the layout of the cast floor. The shorter end of each block touches that in the column adjacent to it, but within each column the long side of the units are separated by gaps measuring 45 mm. The work is primarily a very dark green colour, although there are significant tonal variations within and between the blocks, such that at some points it becomes lighter and includes shades of brown. The slabs are translucent and their appearance alters significantly under different light conditions. Untitled (Floor) has a rough, uneven surface and features many small scratches, cracks and fissures, which were produced in the casting process. Each slab measures approximately 210 by 500 by 1370 mm and weighs around 200 kg. The blocks are each accompanied by two Perspex ‘feet’, which must be attached beneath them during any installation.
This work was made by the British artist Rachel Whiteread during 1994 and 1995, when she was living and working in London. In 1997 Whiteread stated that in order to make this and other polyester resin sculptures with significant volumes (see, for instance, Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) 1995, private collection) she had to invent her own extremely ‘laborious’ and ‘complicated’ casting process, which involved using a very slow catalyst and pouring an inch of resin into a mould every twenty four hours (Rachel Whiteread and Andrea Rose, ‘Rachel Whiteread interviewed by Andrea Rose’, in British Pavilion, Venice Biennale 1997, p.32). After she created the slabs, Whiteread pigmented them using coloured dye. To aid installation she also gave each pair of blocks a number from one to seven, denoting their place within the overall composition. These numbers are drilled into the blocks’ sides in places that are not visible when they are displayed.
Casts made from found objects and architectural spaces have been central to Whiteread’s practice from the late 1980s onwards, and since 1992 she has produced a number of works by taking casts from floors (see, for instance, Untitled (Floor) 1992, private collection). Discussing these floor sculptures, the art critic Charlotte Mullins has argued that although floors ‘necessarily feature in every building’, they are ‘rarely scrutinised’ (Mullins 2004, p.40). She has therefore claimed that Whiteread’s works of this kind encourage viewers to engage in the uncommon activity of closely attending to the visual appearance of floor surfaces and spaces. To some extent this is the case with this work, which invites particular attention to its wood-grain pattern and the way in which the individual wooden boards would have been arranged within the original floor. However, as Whiteread has noted regarding her floor pieces, they are always differentiated from the original objects by the fact that ‘The casting inverts the surface texture of the floor’, with areas that originally ‘went inward’ becoming ‘the raised sections of the final piece’ (Whiteread in Craig Houser, ‘If Walls Could Talk: An Interview With Rachel Whiteread’, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 18 April 2001, http://pastexhibitions.guggenheim.org/whiteread/interview2.html, accessed 28 July 2015).
Untitled (Floor) is among the first works that Whiteread made using polyester resin. In 1997, discussing her initial decision to use this material, she stated: ‘All my previous work had a definite solidity to it. I wanted to make a work that had an inherent transparency so that its internal as well as its external structure could be revealed’ (Whiteread and Rose, British Pavilion, Venice Biennale 1997, p.32). Mullins has argued that this approach further enriched Whiteread’s use of casting because ‘the interior of each cast void’ now featured ‘a more complex articulation of space that saw a simultaneous solidification and yet opening out of the spaces cast’ (Mullins 2004, p.59). The dyed resin also produces interesting visual effects when seen in different light conditions, as Mullins has observed:
In a shaded gallery space it was brooding, dark and secretive, but as soon as sunlight crossed it, it was transformed, the interior lighting up like a bevelled emerald, flashes of gold and copper glistening on the surfaces that had previously rubbed up against the joists. The uneven surface imprint of the rough-grained floorboards danced, and the previously dark spaces were exchanged for the translucency of a shallow lake.
(Mullins 2004, p.63.)
Rachel Whiteread: Shedding Life, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Liverpool 1996, reproduced front cover, pp.46–7, 49.
Rachel Whiteread, exhibition catalogue, British Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Venice 1997, p.32, reproduced p.59.
Charlotte Mullins, Rachel Whiteread, London 2004, p.63, reproduced p.64.
Supported by Christie’s.