Whiteread brings cubism to the Tate

Rachel Whiteread is the latest artist to try to conquer the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. Does she succeed? Tom Lubbock assesses the Turner prize-winner's installation 'Embankment'

Rachel Whiteread's Embankment is the most recent work in Tate Modern's annual Unilever Series, where an artist is invited to fill the giant Turbine Hall. Last year Bruce Nauman filled it with muttering sounds. Before that there was Olafur Eliasson's baleful foggy sunset.

The Turner Prize winner is famous for her casting. Her ingredients here are 14,000 cardboard storage boxes whose interior spaces have been cast in white, translucent, ice-tray plastic - and then piled up in towering bergs and pinnacles and mounds, to create a mountainous, snow-drifty landscape.

What's the idea? You have all these white "ghosts" of cardboard storage boxes, evoking all the stuff that we pack up, put away and forget about. It is the familiar Whiteread pathos effect - memorials to things hidden, overlooked, lost. And it could surely have been made to work once more, if the whole installation had suggested a huge attic or warehouse. You can well imagine these ghost-boxes stacked high and neatly, in aisle after aisle, evoking some vast spectral archive, the memory bank of a lost civilisation, countless boxes of personal belongings, the lost property office at the end of the universe, etc.

But obviously Embankment isn't like that. The thousands of boxes are stacked up as they would never be stacked for storage purposes. There's no imaginable human or natural eventuality that would result in boxes arriving in this formation. Looking at the whole construction, the idea of storage just becomes irrelevant. The arrangement, in other words, has got nothing to do with the ingredients it's made from. Basic concept failure.

There's also a failure of theatre. People talk about the "challenge" of the Turbine Hall, but it's not just a matter of scale. There are some big spaces where you could put quite a contained and sober work, and it would still resonate. The Turbine Hall isn't like that. It's an awful, awkward big space, and it can only be conquered by the most theatrical spectacle.

Rachel Whiteread is an artist of fine and minimal taste. She operates well with a single object or with several objects set in a regular formation. But here she's attempting theatre, and romantic set design is not her speciality. When you're in among them, it doesn't take long to notice that the shapes of this landscape, though high, are not in the least dramatic. There's no doom or vertigo in them. You strain to feel something dynamic or apocalyptic. It's not there. A photo in front of you is as good as it gets.

Rachel Whiteread: Embankment: Turbine Hall, Tate Modern; every day to 2 April; admission free

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer - UI / UX Design

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Designer is required to j...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£30000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This organisation based in Pea...

Recruitment Genius: Administrator / Warehouse Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fast-paced award winning company based in...

Recruitment Genius: General Manager

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of global logisti...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable