Rachel Whiteread review

4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
Rachel Whiteread, 'Ghost', 1990. © Rachel Whiteread.
Rachel Whiteread, 'Untitled (Stairs)', 2001. © Rachel Whiteread.
Rachel Whiteread, 'Untitled (Nine Tables)', 1998. © Rachel Whiteread.

It’s what’s on the inside that counts, at least that’s what my mum says. Rachel Whiteread must have been told the same thing growing up, because the influential British sculptor (and first female winner of the Turner Prize back in 1993) is singularly obsessed with the inside of objects. Over a 25-year career, she has managed to create a powerful, defined, unique aesthetic by disregarding the outside of things and instead examining the emptiness within, often to devastatingly emotional effect.

You walk into this show to be confronted by a city turned to ash. The early works are casts of the negative space of a fireplace, a bath, a closet, a hot-water bottle; it looks like the fossilised remains of the entire contents of a lost home.

All the walls in the gallery have been pulled out to create an open space, so you can’t really walk through this show chronologically. Instead you stumble from monumental sculpture to monumental sculpture, dwarfed by concrete, plaster and resin. Mattresses lie across one wall, doors and windows across another, a staircase leads to nothing in the middle of the room, a row of bookshelves holds no books, only the impression of them.

Tate Britain hasn’t bothered with wall texts here, and the info handout’s pretty flimsy, so it’s left out some important emotional context as a result. The newer works aren’t that exciting either, nor are the works on paper. And you can’t help feeling that most of the bigger works would be happier outside, heaving their heft about in the real world. It all feels a bit mausoleum-ish, like a builders’ merchant in a funeral parlour. 

But that doesn’t eclipse how great and important most of Whiteread’s art is. There are roots to it – the minimalism of Carl Andre, the resinous structures of Eva Hesse – but she aims for the gut. She uses the ideas of abstraction and minimalism to document very real things. These are tombstones, concrete effigies of moments that are gone for good. There’s death here, lost love and youth. The house that staircase was in is gone, the years she spent sleeping on that mattress are too. This is work about time passing. It screams with thousands of lived moments that are gone for ever, and this is all that remains. 


By: Eddy Frankel

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Whiteread's work appears bold and simple, but technically challenging. Her sculptures are curiosities to those not familiar with her work, but well accustomed in architectural and design circles. With three decades of work under her belt, the exhibition comes off slightly underwhelming and leaving you wanting more. There is little description, background, or context. The most interesting/informative piece was the video diary for her House (1993) in bow, of which you can watch from free outside the gallery, and online.

The exhibition is slightly disappointing for such a well celebrated contemporary artist with much more to give than what is seen here.


A solid exhibition at Tate Britain on Rachel Whiteread's work. There are a number of pieces and lots of information free to view (without a ticket) which is a nice move. I went on a Sunday afternoon and there was lots of space to view the pieces which capture the spaces within or underneath everyday objects or rooms, exposing interesting details of how they are made or formed. I would recommend a visit!