Rachel Whiteread

B: Clapton Park Estate, Mandeville Street, London E5; Bakewell Court; Repton Court; March 1995


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Rachel Whiteread born 1963
Part of
Screenprint on paper
Image: 490 × 743 mm
Purchased 1996


Demolished is the title of a portfolio of twelve duo-tone screenprints, divided into three categories under the rubrics A, B and C (see Tate P77868-71 and P77876-9 for A and C). The portfolio was printed at Coriander Limited, London, in an edition of thirty-five plus ten artist's proofs and published by Charles Booth-Clibborn, London, under his imprint The Paragon Press. This portfolio is number twenty-five in the edition. The prints were scanned from photographs recording the demolition of tower blocks on three separate housing estates in the borough of Hackney, east London. Whiteread took the photographs between October 1993 and June 1995 using black and white film. The subsequent screenprinting process has enlarged the images resulting in a grainy texture and steely grey tones. Stages in each of the three demolitions are documented in three photographs taken from the same view-point and looking through virtually the same frame. A fourth photograph of each site from a different location records, in A, a pile of rubble, in B, a dust-filled stormy sky and, in C, gleaming tower blocks on a sunny day before the dark, cloud-producing processes of demolition. While the A-series images assume a neutral documentary tone, at odds with the monumental destruction being witnessed, the B and C series have more apocalyptic resonances reminiscent of photo-journalistic documentation of nuclear explosions and war damage as a result of bombing.

The events portrayed in Demolished have important personal resonances for the artist. In the early 1990s she was living in London's East End, a historically poor area. Her experiences here, together with the noticeable increase of homeless people in the city at that time arising from dramatic socio-economic changes occurring in what came to be known as Thatcher's Britain (Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister 1979-90), informed her work of this period. For Whiteread, the sculptures she cast from discarded pieces of furniture operate as metaphors for neglect, both of people and their living environments. In 1993 she was commissioned by Artangel (a London-based arts funding organisation) to cast the interior space of a house and chose a house that was scheduled for demolition. House 1993 (destroyed) was located in Bow, East London, a formerly deprived area. It came to stand as a testimony to the people living there prior to the increasing gentrification of the area later in the decade.

In Demolished the images are sufficiently general that the tower blocks could be in almost any city in the world and stand for social planning for the poor world-wide. Although they portray destruction, the images are redeemed from the narrative of dark endings by their aesthetic transformation through the screenprinting process. Like Whiteread's sculptural casts, they serve to record what she has referred to as 'something that is going to be completely forgotten … the detritus of our culture' (quoted in Detterer, p.271), creating a memorial to the past in the hope of generating something better for the future.

Further reading:
Gabriele Detterer, Art Recollection: Artists' Interviews and Statements, Florence 1997, pp.261-72
Rachel Whiteread: Shedding Life, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, Liverpool 1996, reproduced p.89
Art from the UK, exhibition catalogue, Sammlung Goetz, Munich 1997, reproduced p.161

Elizabeth Manchester
October 2000

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Sam Gilliam born 1933   
Born and works USA   
Simmering 1970   
Acrylic on canvas and leather string   
Every time this ‘drape painting’ is hung it takes on a different form, with the folds and curves of the canvas changing with each re-installation. Gilliam spread the canvas out on the floor and covered it with diluted acrylic paint in layers so colours mixed together within the fibres of the canvas. He then suspended the canvas from a wall and applied drips and splashes of thicker paint. It was, he explained, an attempt to ‘deal with the canvas as material … using it as a more tactile way of painting’.

Richard Smith born 1931   
Born Britain, worked Britain, USA   
Early Reply 1972   
Acrylic paint, canvas, metal and fabric   
An alternative to the conventional structure of canvas stretched across a wooden backing frame is proposed here. A grid of aluminium tubes are used as the support instead, and the work is suspended on the wall by strips of painted tape that also run diagonally across the canvas, twisting at the bottom and edges to reveal their painted underside. While still holding on to the category of ‘painting’, the work draws attention to its presence as a physical object, not just a two-dimensional image.

Niki de Saint Phalle 1930-2002   
Born France, worked France, USA, Spain, Italy, Switzerland   
Shooting Picture 1961   
Plaster, paint, string, polythene and wire on wood   
The emphasis on the violent gesture in post-war abstract painting culminated in Saint Phalle's Shooting Pictures. She filled polythene bags with paint and enclosed them within layers of plaster against a blockboard backing. Spectators were invited to shoot at these constructions, releasing the paint. This one was shot by artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Saint Phalle stopped making these works in 1963, explaining 'I had become addicted to shooting, like one becomes addicted to a drug'.

Frank Bowling born 1936   
Born Guyana, works Guyana, Britain, USA   
Spreadout Ron Kitaj 1984-6   
Acrylic paint, oil paint, acrylic gel, damar, beeswax, chalk, metallic pigments, acrylic foam, shells and plastic toys on canvas   
This work displays Bowling’s interest in paint as ‘organic matter, pliable and beautiful’. The complex texture is the result of foam, shredded plastic packing material, Christmas glitter, costume jewellery, plastic toys and oyster shells being embedded into the surface. Bowling began as a figurative painter, studying alongside R B Kitaj – referenced in the work’s title – at the Royal College of Art. He has talked about his move to abstraction as a process of ‘unlearning’.

Shozo Shimamoto 1928 - 2013   
Born and worked Japan   
Holes 1953   
Foil paper and oil paint on paper mounted onto wood   
This work was made by using a hole punch on foil sweet wrappers which Shimamoto then pasted down and washed with black ink. In this way, it combines new materials, textural possibilities and the trace of its making. Shimamoto was one of the original members of the Gutai Art Association, founded 1954, the name of which has been translated as ‘embodiment’ with implications of direct expression. His practice encompassed performances and actions as well as paintings.

Pinot Gallizio 1902-1964   
Born and worked Italy   
Industrial Painting 1958   
Monoprinted oil and acrylic paint and typographic ink on canvas   
Gallizio was an early member of the Situationist International, an avant-garde group that attempted to analyse and subvert the capitalist commodification of daily life. Gallizio’s ‘industrial painting’ adapted mechanised manufacturing techniques to challenge established models for the production and distribution of art. The paint was applied onto long rolls of canvas by a team of assistants using a low-tech ‘painting machine’, so that the result was mass-produced but also unique. Gallizio would then cut off sections to be sold.

Gallery label, October 2016

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