Art & Photography

Rachel Whiteread: Detached

William Kherbek reviews the YBA sculptor’s exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery London

RACHEL WHITEREAD Detached I, 2012 Concrete and steel
Rachel Whiteread, ‘Detached I’, 2012. Concrete and Steel. Courtesy of the artist & Gagosian Gallery

If it isn’t the most over-quoted bit of poetry ever, then it’s certainly top five: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man is as it is: Infinite”. Everyone from Aldous Huxley to The Lizard King were impressed by William Blake’s broken syllogism from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell; and here we are again, using Blake’s mysterious little if/then statement, this time to gain entry to the latest exhibition of Rachel Whiteread’s work at the Gagosian Gallery. The show, titled Detached, is very much concerned with introspection, but for Whiteread, it’s a kind of Mobius strip: looking inside means looking outside and looking at the outside tells you a lot about what’s inside. This is not just one of those lazy journalist koans that keep music blogs hoary with comment postings. In Whiteread’s sculptures buildings are cast from the negative space of their interiors, cardboard cartons are flayed into collage and the doors – if not of perception, then at least the doors of resin – are about as transparent as you can hope them to be. The main space of the Gagosian is occupied by three concrete and steel sculptures of structures that could – as Derrida would say – be rightly mistaken for sheds. The curious thing about these sheds is they’re composed of the space of their own interiors, inside is outside and empty space is made solid. That, of course, is the eternally paradoxical characteristic of sculpture, but by rendering not object but space itself as the material of the piece the works redefine their display on their own terms. Even in a space as big as the Gagosian you feel like you’re just standing in the-space-that’s-not-the-shed.

In the next room are a series of resin doors angled against the walls or mounted on them. They’re undoubtedly solid, but also sufficiently translucent to ensure they’re never just sculptures-of-doors. These doors are windows and these windows are blurry. These are the kinds of doors you can look straight through and still not be sure of what you’re seeing. Very fitting for the most CCTV-ed country on the face of the Earth, one might remark.

RACHEL WHITEREAD Untitled (Blue), 2012 Silver leaf, cardboard, celluloid and graphite on paper 16 9/16 x 11 5/8 inches (42 x 29.5 cm)
Rachel Whiteread, ‘Untitled (Blue)’, 2012. Silver leaf, cardboard, celluloid and graphite on paper. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery

The Detached series and the resin doors will definitely suck up the most attention but I have to say that in this season of collages (Schwitters recently at Tate Britain, photo-collage at the Photographers’ Gallery and a diverse and sporadically rewarding show on the subject at Bernard Jacobson Gallery on Cork Street), a number of what you might call micro-sculptures consisting of sliver-leafed cardboard packaging and displayed along the north wall of the gallery’s entrance were a nice addition to the show. The packages are opened up, stretched out, layered and enfolded. In a sense, the process couldn’t be more primitive or literal, but in stripping away the fashionable atavisms of process they express a brutish commitment that lesser artists need heroic scale and historically freighted (in every sense) materials to achieve. They’re finite pieces but in their reflective surfaces they also contain glimpses of infinities.

Rachel Whiteread: Detatched runs until 22 May at Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JD