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‘Rachel Whiteread Drawings’ at UCLA Hammer Museum

February 13, 2010

As a sculptor, Rachel Whiteread has pretty much taken a single, elegant idea and turned it around and around in innumerable ways, both expected and not. Using plaster, resin, concrete and other materials, she mostly makes casts of domestic objects or, more provocatively, casts of the empty space around them.

In the first gallery at the UCLA Hammer Museum, where a retrospective exhibition of the British artist’s drawings recently opened, two eccentrically shaped and interlocking blocks made of deep maroon rubber and polystyrene only slowly reveal themselves for what they are — the vacant spaces beneath an ordinary table and chair. Their absent legs, seat, top and other features provide the limits of the 1994 sculpture’s outer form.

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The way the “chair space” slides out from within the “table space,” like some extruded machine-part, is vaguely unsettling. Rarely has “nothing” looked so obdurate and brooding.

Some have carped that the idea is not really Whiteread’s but Bruce Nauman’s.Yes and no. In 1965, when the British artist was a toddler, the über-Postminimalist made an iconic concrete “Cast of the Space Beneath My Chair.” So, yes — because artists (good ones, anyway) pick up ideas from other good artists as part of art’s social conversation. And no — because Whiteread has transformed the Nauman precedent  into something distinctive.

Read more at: Art review: ‘Rachel Whiteread Drawings’ at UCLA Hammer Museum

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