British-artist Rachel Whiteread’s postmodernism is deadpan realism, a return to a classical sculpture technique—casting—casting, not things, but the space under things, a contemplation of forgotten space around, under, and inside. In forming, naming, and repeating these blocky underneath spaces, setting nothingness in plaster and resin, Whiteread re-organizes our experience so that the space around a bathtub for example, appears, while the bathtub itself disappears. The space around the bathtub remembers the disappeared bathtub, but this new space stands on its own, surprising and delightful—previously invisible stability and unrecognized support.
Whiteread’s simple, restrained diagrammatic drawings whisper some slight, neat material flourishes but self-consciously exhibit only mute echoes of the magic of her sculptures. There are some exceptions: a spiral of quarter inch cuts of white tape on paper, an unexpected study for a Holocaust memorial, for instance. I respond to the insertion in a room of bathtubs of a black-and-white drawing that seems to suggest a coffin—coffin and bathtub, both structures that measure the body; a bath as submersion is a kind of burial. Exhibited with her sculptures, Whiteread’s drawings threaten to mute the force of Whiteread’s project as a whole, potentially tipping this significant and stirring investigation from the deliberate unearthing of evidence to a general and free-floating contemplation, a mushy psychological theater, open to any personal projections. Whiteread’s sculptures gracefully map and invert, discovering a trace of rust from the previously hidden bottom of a tub, here on what is now the exposed surface of a sculpture, a slight bump extruding there, a bump that had previously been an intrusion. Whiteread’s drawings, on the other hand, feel pre-figured, sketched and colored in, just doors, not portals.
I think Whiteread could let go with her drawings, let in some mess. It would be wonderful to see discovered, weathered, violent-if-necessary or dancing drawings that would defy easy classification—drawings of comparable artistry to Whiteread’s sculptures.
- Marcus Civin