Tate Britain is currently hosting the largest exhibition of her work to date, including new work Chicken Shed 2017 on the lawn outside and Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) 1995 in the Duveen Galleries as you enter. The latter is a series of casts of the underneath of chairs — the most humble, anonymous and overlooked of spaces — in jewel-like coloured resin. This concept of unoccupied space, making it something rather than just an absence, is a thought-provoking one and is found in the work of another of my favourite artists, Antony Gormley.
Rachel Whiteread was the first woman to win the Turner Prize and is probably most widely known for House 1993. The artist took a condemned Victorian terraced house in the East End within sight of Canary Wharf, touchingly domestic and utterly ordinary - and cast the entire building in concrete. It drew admiring crowds and public criticism in equal measure before being controversially demolished after just 80 days. Whiteread was present at the demolition and subsequently fell ill for several months.
Familiar domestic architecture and artefacts figure largely in the exhibition. Untitled (Stairs) 2001 is a cast of the stairs from her home and studio, previously a synagogue and then a textile warehouse, capturing the signs of wear and tear from generations of daily use.
Found objects, often ugly and unwanted items, also take centre stage in her work alongside homely, intimate objects such as these hot water bottle sculptures, disconcertingly titled Torsos.
I really liked these library bookshelves which I found familiar and comforting (I love a library) but then chillingly reminiscent of Whiteread's Holocaust memorial in Vienna, which features regimented rows of books with their spines turned inwards - unwritten books by murdered would-be authors.
Whiteread has long been interested in dolls' houses, starting a collection after she left college that would eventually number around 150 and be used to create Place, now on permanent exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. This cast version is intriguing; its symmetry and emptiness give it grace and simplicity. People still peer in to view the interior but there is no furniture, no posed dolls, no tiny plated meals or pictures on the walls - just architecture and space.
I won't give any more of the exhibition away (as I strongly recommend you go for yourself) but I'm going to finish with my favourite piece, largely due to the story behind it. This is Untitled (Room 101) 2003, a plasticised plaster cast of the room in Broadcasting House where George Orwell worked during his time at the BBC and reputed to be the inspiration for Room 101 in his iconic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. This inversion of empty space gives it a solidity and blankness that is utterly perfect, as well as revealing the tiny cracks and irregularities that are inevitable when people create, and live or work in, an environment. It couldn't be more fitting.
Yours, looking at the everyday in a whole new way,
London Girl About Town xx