Rachel Whiteread: Drawings, Tate Britain, London

3.00

A day in the life of a door knob

As a sculptor, she is best known for casts of what are often called "negative spaces". What are these? They are the spaces that objects – tables, houses, etc – either displace or disguise by their physical presence. Have you ever thought about the space beneath the very table – that roughly cube-shaped (or circular perhaps) weight of air – at which you are sitting? Is not the idea of that shape almost as interesting as the shape of the table itself? Wouldn't you like to see it rendered in three dimensions? That is Rachel Whiteread's job.

This first-ever museum exhibition of her drawings shows Whiteread doodling (her word) on paper, using pencil, gouache, ink, correcting fluid (to build texture). She calls these drawings her working diary, but they are in no way personal or confessional. They don't throw back at us any kind of image of the sculptor. They feel coolly constructed, painstakingly analytical. They remind us of work by the minimalists – paintings by Frank Stella from the 1960s, or stacked units by Donald Judd. They are cerebrally set apart from us. We don't readily engage with them emotionally. And yet, in an odd sort of way we do. One of the reasons for this is that the objects of Whiteread's world, the things with which she doodles so painstakingly, are so familiar to us.

The little sub-themes of the show – they are written up on the walls as we pass from gallery to gallery – are words that we have been reading, and objects that we have been attending to all our lives: tables, chairs, beds, mattresses, floors, doors, windows, switches, baths, slabs. Nothing abstract about any of that. She draws particular examples of these objects, often on graph paper. They could not be more familiar because they are wholly typical examples of their kind – the knob is a perfectly round knob, the door is as customary a door as you could ever wish to enter by. And yet they do look singular, and it is in part to do with the fact that some of these objects are set against that graph paper. The green door seems to rise up off the page like a kind of ghostly prototype of itself. Floors are different; it is the rhythms of bits of parquet flooring that interest her, their shapeliness as they interlock. These simple examples of shapeliness, the way they can be ordered and then disordered, possess a pleasing kind of mystery.

But how much can we feel for much of this work? We feel most for a detail on the Holocaust Memorial that she created in Vienna in 2000; there's a model of it here. It's severe, impenetrable. On its roof there is a strange spiral. If you look on the wall near the model you will see that this spiral is a trace of the ceiling rosette inside the building – an interior no one ever sees. She has painted that rosette, from the inside, three times. One tiny painting is a very dark brown, with a flex and a light bulb depending. The trace of a human presence. Light amid the acknowledgment of terrible barbarities.





To 16 January 2011 ( tate.org.uk)

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before