Saturday, 29 May 2010

Rachel Whiteread Drawings: studies in negative spaces, places for play - Tate Britain 8 September 2010 - 16 January 2011

Photo: Rachel Whiteread video on display in main foyer, Tate Britain, to accompany her exhibition. Photo copyright Margaret Sharrow, 2010; video copyright Tate

It's always interesting to see artists' preparatory work (see Francis Alÿs, 'A Story of Deception'), and this selection of drawings, photographs, maquettes and items from the studio of former Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread makes a nice complement to the current year's contenders' exhibition. There are many drawings made on graph paper, and I began to wonder what benefits this might offer her (scaling up? guidance against a tendency to stray from the straight line?), and why I hadn't tried drawing on graph paper myself. She is also fond of using whiteout as a drawing tool, something Michael Landy has used to great effect in some of his drawings of Tinguely's Homage to New York.

As a photographer it is always interesting for me to see what use non-photographer artists make of this medium. There was one photograph of an urban landscape, a study for her water tower piece I think, that she had painted over, giving a very atmospheric result. Other photographs were daubed with whiteout to indicate the negative spaces that are the hallmark of her sculptural work. (The idea of highlighting the negative space, the invisible thing in preference to the apparently existing things, is one that appeals to me greatly.) There is the famous house, blotted out while its neighbours remain. There is another photograph of the field, after the standing guts of the house that was Whiteread's seminal work had been demolished by an anxious council. An absence of an absence. Perhaps we should be visiting this ghost of a work that was a ghost of a house.

I also liked her plans for the fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Square - to have the mirror image of the plinth stood on top of itself, made of some translucent material. 'Do it! DO IT!!!' I shouted to her, though she wasn't there. Fortunately I did all this shouting in my head, or they would have thrown me out before I could have seen some of the most interesting work: studies on modified postcards (one filled with negative spaces through the aegis of a range of differently sized hole punches), and a vast array of handholdable (but sadly safe behind glass) treasures she keeps in her studio: glass globes and crystal balls, a mould of Peter Sellers' nose that was a sample from a sculptural materials company, single shoes, toys, stones, resin moulds of bowls, mirrors and other delightfully reflective surfaces. Such is the stuff we need to have about us, for reference, for inspiration, for play. For it is play that allows us to connect with the unfettered, uncluttered self that can create with clarity.

A bonus exhibition that can be seen on a combination ticket with Eadweard Muybridge and the Turner Prize.

Rachel Whiteread Drawings continues at Tate Britain, London, until 16 January 2011

Posted 9 November 2010

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