By: Aleksandra Bulatskaya
When Michelangelo sculpted David, it can be safely assumed that he gave considerable thought to the physical characteristics of his masterpiece, but as it turns out, not all sculptors focus on the object of their work.
At first, this sounds like an artistic paradox but works created by Rachel Whiteread represent how the artist can make a powerful statement by focusing on the negative space surrounding an object or the emptiness that lies within.
Born in 1963, in London Whiteread was raised by an artist mother and a teacher father. Her mother’s work and later death had an enormous impact on her. She creates sculptures by filling empty spaces inside objects or by recreating the original form through casts. The minimalistic and stark nature of her work is meant to inspire contemplation and meditation.
This exploration of space to evoke thought can be seen perfectly in her, “Nameless Library” sculpture. It is an impenetrable library, turned inward. The work was created for the Holocaust Memorial in Vienna to commemorate Austrian Jews who died during WWII. The stark nature of this work, steeped in symbolic and literal emptiness.
While “Nameless Library” focused on empty space within an object, her most well known work titled, “House” focused on the space surrounding it. Whiteread filled a condemned home in London’s East End with concrete. The home was demolished later that year as her work stood, a monument to the destroyed building. This created a powerful statement about London’s management of the poorest neighborhoods. It was for this work that she received the Turner Prize, United Kingdom’s highest artistic honor.
Regarded by many as England’s most influential contemporary artist, Whiteread alters the audiences perception of each objects she creates. The context of filling or recreating the empty spaces gives them another meaning and in this achievement is where her true genius lies.
She is not a sculptor molding an object, she an artist with the power to mold thoughts with her craft.