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Rachel Whiteread
by Max Henry

Rachel Whiteread, installation view, 19096

Nothing Is More Real Than Nothing.

To look at space as something measurable although infinite requires a meticulous gradation of emulsified materials. It is the facility of connotation within those materials that resonates in Rachel Whiteread's recent sculptures at Luhring Augustine Gallery.

Her casts of the inverted sides of household items used daily (i.e., tables, bathtubs) are a transmutation of the work her precursors (Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman), investigated earlier. It is however, the work of Gordon Matta-Clark in the early 1970s that Whiteread mirrors in that Matta-Clark's anarchitectural concepts were about the complexity of forms which had seemingly outlived their use for the disenfranchised inhabitants. Both share a social conciousness derived out of a philosophical need to conjure and excoriate the epistemological concerns of history and time. It is a knowledge gained by incision (Matta-Clark's sauna, 1971, and splitting: four corners, 1974) and through addition by subtraction (architectural modifications) in the passageways and views that simplified (bronx floors: threshole, 1972-73, and day's end, 1975) the immutability of "nothingness." A sensuous use of plaster, resin, and rubber memorialize the rituals associated with those objects (such as dining and bathing). Evoking memory in its myriad forms, Whiteread excavates a lucid, dreamy world by our association to the underside/underbelly, thus concieving an anthropological study. By semiotically inducing the reductionist nature of minimalism, a heraldic narration in a modernistic idiom gives form to a concept. That very concept provides a cogent window for the viewer to experience the transient "nothing" as a tactile embodiment of place. As Samuel Beckett said, "nothing is more real than nothing."

untitled (rubber double plinth), is the backside of mortuary slabs, their weight and shape a merging of the plano concave/convex, resulting in a stolid representation of death, giving expressivness to rigor mortis.

untitled (resin corridor), consists of nine planks of translucent blue-green, arranged on the floor to re-create the steps that were used to cast an inversion of once creaky floorboards. Their impermeable surface is suffused with an inexorable emulsion. In distilling the history of objects as a finite form, Whiteread provides us with polemic as an ontological argument; an augury on the chimera of postmodern life where the umbilical chord has been cut from the sacrament of daily consecration; a death mask for the 20th century with parallels to the fall of ancient Rome. If art is a reinvention of the past, where the self governs its own universe and is therefore its own God, then the artist by tactile delineation, molds the face of the faceless.

As sepulchral as these phantasmic sculptures are, they remain as reliquaries to the living.

Max Henry

New York, New York
1996

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