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
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own