Rachel Whiteread’s ‘Internal Objects’ at Gagosian Suggests the Aftermath of Catastrophe

That Rachel Whiteread went from being part of the Young British Artists, the loosely organized group of artistic provocateurs in the late ’80s / early-to-mid ’90s, to her current title of Dame Rachel Whiteread DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire), says much about her trajectory. Her 1990 breakthrough work, Ghost, was certainly intended to provoke – being as it was a plaster cast of an entire Victorian living room; but looking back now, her oeuvre is most definitely rife with affective meaning, and is very much steeped in gravitas.

And if you consider especially her Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial (also referred to as the Nameless Library) in Vienna, there is a deeply meditative quality to her work as well. Both monumental in scale and bereft of adornment, it inspires undisturbed reflection and consideration.

Her dedication to the minimalist aesthetic that first brought her to international attention has never wavered. But for her new exhibition at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, London, tellingly titled Internal Objects, she has eschewed her method of casting from existing objects, and instead conjured a pair of cabin-like structures – Poltergeist (2020) and Döppelganger (2020–21) – from scratch. Built from found wood and metal, they are painted a stark white, imbuing them with a sort of spectral, almost haunted quality. And where in the past her mostly flat surfaces suggested a kind of control, the new works seem to be telling a story of ruin and decay, possibly following on from something catastrophic. The structures seem to be abandoned, and left to their inevitable decline.

Indeed, nature even appears to be crashing through the disrepair in a way that seems at once somber, but also possibly threatening. Both works immediately arouse the desire to reflect, and then to detect or devise some manner of backstory – though it would hardly likely be a happy one. Taken together, they also seem to be hinting at a possible new way forward for The Dame.

As Whiteread herself so succinctly puts it, “As an artist you create a language, you create depth to a language, you change the language.”

Internal Objects opens April 12 at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, London, and will also feature a new body of sculptures in resin and new works on paper, as well as recent cast sculptures in bronze. It runs though June 5.

Rachel Whiteread, Poltergeist, (2020), Döppelganger (2020–21), © Rachel Whiteread. Photos: Prudence Cuming Associates

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