If you know Rachel Whiteread by the work for which she is known — casts in resin, plaster and concrete, using everything from the spaces under chairs or tables, to rooms or even a condemned Victorian house in London or a Vienna Library, as ready-made molds — the pieces presently on view in her first Los Angeles solo show will be surprising, and may at first seem a bit deflated. The London-based Whiteread’s earlier work borrowed strategies from early postminimalist sculpture, particularly the found-mold casting maneuvers of early Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman, and married them to Gordon Matta-Clark’s “anarchitecture” impulses and the sort of cultural detritus mining you get from Robert Rauschenberg, as well as the divining of historical residue and patina one finds in the art of Ann Hamilton or Robert Overby. It offered a combination of technical prowess, material presence, spectacular scale, and a sense of place that elicited wows.
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That fetching combination of qualities is largely absent from this show. With the exception of a couple of pieces — casts of the insides of what appear to have been a dollhouse and a large birdhouse or beekeeper’s hive that become something like toy versions of Whiteread’s megalithic sculptures — most of the works here trade the dramatic translation of interior space into solid form, for pictorial and compositional concerns.
Detractors may see this exhibition as one of consumables made for easy export, and no doubt these works — most of them arrangements of small forms cast from common containers and packaging — transported easily and will hang well in homes (many are wall works). But these compositions succeed in fusing the material literalism and literal impressionism of Whiteread’s earlier work with the sort of delicate still-life arrangements of Giorgio Morandi and boogie-woogie geometric dynamism of Piet Mondrian to impressively sensitive and sophisticated ends.
Rachel Whiteread |Gagosian Gallery | 456 Camden Drive, Beverly Hills | (310) 271-9400 or www.gagosian.com | Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. | Through Dec. 20 |