Sunday, July 1st, 2001

Rachel Whiteread

Serpentine Gallery
Kensington Gardens
London SW1
June 20- August 5, 2001, 10-6 daily, Free

Untitled (Upstairs) 2000-01 Photo Mike Bruce
Untitled (Upstairs) 2000-01 Photo Mike Bruce

There is a tendency for international art stars, especially those with “signature” styles, to risk in large scale works the predictable and monotonous, but to surprise the viewer, pleasantly, with smaller pieces. The handmade, the throw-off, the experimental, tantalize with the possibilities of change and growth. Even the act of variation on a familiar theme casts unexpected emphasis on facture, say, if the “usual” is conceptual rather than formal in emphasis. Rachel Whiteread, interestingly, bucks the trend, at least on the evidence of her current Serpentine Gallery show, her first solo show in a public London space, incidentally, and surprisingly, since her Chisenhale Gallery show in the early 1990s. The smaller works are much of a Whiteread muchness, the Bruce Nauman rip-off casting of the underside of a table and chair in her favored “wine gum” resin, a limp wax mattress looking like nothing so much as yesterday’s fried polenta. But the show is redeemed by its largest item, in the central gallery, Untitled (Upstairs) 2000-1, a mammoth, thought-provoking, deeply resonant work rich in formal and technical intrigue. If just one work, a small piece, was a winner, you’d think it a fluke, but when it’s the most ambitious effort that pays out an aesthetic dividend, that’s a big deal.