Rachel Whiteread Drawings
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
Through April 25
Like fast-food serving sizes and the national deficit, museums have spent the past decade growing bigger—adding ever-larger exhibition space to house monumental paintings, installations, and sculptures. Referred to as “museum elephantiasis” by Deyan Sudjic, the director of London’s Design Museum, the race to expand has become a global epidemic. But while larger and better-endowed museums continue to grow, how do smaller museums compete without the physical room or deep-pocketed patrons needed to expand?
The Hammer Museum has found an intriguing antidote to the increasing monumentality of contemporary art by mounting an intimate exhibit of British artist Rachel Whiteread’s drawings. Whiteread is known primarily for her gigantic public projects, including a concrete cast of a Victorian house in East London (1993) and the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial in Vienna (2000), a 10-by-7-meter cast of library shelves turned inside out. Rachel Whiteread Drawings is the first major museum survey of her works on paper, featuring 155 drawings, eight sculptures, and two vitrines of small objects and postcards she’s collected and arranged.
While Whiteread has achieved greater acclaim for her architectural sculptures, some of her most moving work has been her concrete and resin casts of negative space, often domestic and usually worn by time and use. She—like Bruce Nauman before her—gives form to the immaterial, such as her casts of the spaces beneath chairs or a staircase between a building’s levels. Equally moving and perhaps less familiar are the drawings— usually done in ink, pencil, varnish, and (ironically, perhaps) correction fluid—on softly colored graph paper in tonally complementary colors. She uses these to work through the minute details of a home: the door knobs, light switches, and floor planks. In fact, the galleries are divided by architectural themes such as “Tables and Chairs,” “Floors,” “Beds and Mattresses,” “Doors, Windows, Doorknobs and Switches,” and “Baths, Plinths and Slabs.”
The drawings are often deceptively simple, belying the intricacy of herringbone-patterned floor planks, for instance. The graph paper lends the drawings a slightly mechanical quality, as she works through the details of a home’s oft-ignored accents. Other drawings are collages, lending her images of a rooftop resin water tank an even more ethereal quality juxtaposed with photographs of New York City’s landscape. Each of the rooms includes a conceptually-related sculpture or maquette, allowing visitors to experience multiple creative expressions and to witness the creative process as it progresses from one medium to another.
Whiteread has denied that her drawings are studies for her sculpture, claiming they are done independently and are akin to a diary for her. But the drawings echo the same dichotomies of presence/absence and memory/grieving/forget-ting that make her sculptures so poignant. This is an exhibit that will resonate more strongly with visitors already familiar with her work. Like the Velvet Underground’s understated, experimental album Desert Shore, it’s an exploration into new but familiar territory, simultaneously different and recognizable. And like that album, nothing is as good as classic Whiteread.
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