Saturday, 13 April 2013

Detatched, Rachel Whiteread, Gagosian London

It felt about time to revisit the super space in Britannia Street (near King's Cross) operated by Larry Gagosian. The current exhibition that occupies all the floor space is Detatched, a arrangement of work by Rachel Whiteread.

In the main hall are three concrete casts of the interiors of sheds, works which lend their name to the exhibition. These are familiar works, dull, massive blocks that occupy space to no end, resolutely the opposite of the secreted interior from which they are cast. Of course, each one of these building casts makes one mindful of the purpose to which now-saturated space might have been used. The claustrophobia of using a garden shed, traditionally a place of retreat, of quiet and rumination is a clear metaphor.

Turning that mataphor inside out is the adjacent room which houses a number of doors cast in coloured resin. The original doors would have been solid, of course, the casts created to invent some sort of space in that mass; permeable to light they become even more permeable to the imagination. Moreover, a door occupies a space separate from it, filling out a doorway. This is the sort of metaphysical examination that one may well be expected to indulge in when faced with one of these pieces. The resin door exists, even if one can see through it. However, the inside of a door isn't an obvious place to imagine as a space - not even semantically (when 'inside the door' is used in coversation, it invariably means inside the room on the other side of the door). Equally, a doorway is really referring to the frame that creates that doorway. In fact there is nothing there.

So much for the simplest of conceptual artworks (though the coloured resin casts are rather beautiful on their own terms). The lobby area of the gallery houses a number of pieces in which everyday items are painted, plated or cast from different material to revise their worth. A cardboard beer bottle pack is made from precious metal and plaster. Here is a step further from Duchamp's Fountain, where more than the moniker of 'art' is being conferred on an unlikely object, rather our modern-day associations of value and exclusivity are being churned up in a single piece. I was reminded of Jeff Koons' 2009 exhibition at the Serpentine with its steel-cast replica inflatables.

Beside this are a number of cardboard boxes, collapsed back to their original envelope and painted silver. The reassertion of the two-dimensional packaging is completed with the introduction of a small piece of coloured celluloid film, like a window (dare one say, a stained glass window, with all those ecclesiastical associations). Flat in a frame, the window is redundant. Applied to the completed boxes, it is a way of looking into its space, beyond its container-function.

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