Not realizing the cut-off time for entering the exhibit was a full hour earlier than the close of the museum, my pace is hurried if not an all out run. The sound of my heels and their echo are almost indecipherable. A taptaptaptaptap. More like a typewriter than an echo.
With only a few minutes to spare, I reach the entrance. Hand over my ticket. Flash a smile. Check to make sure I didn’t break heel…not an unusual occurrence for me. I am in. A glance here. A glance there. I take note of what looks like a door, several “boxes” arranged in a grid on the floor, and a few hot water bottles on a shelf.
Not knowing much about the exhibiting artist, Rachel Whiteread, I decide to read the pamphlet. She’s British. Good to know. She was the first woman to win the Turner Price for sculpture in 1993. Interesting. Known for her solid casts of negative spaces, she is one of the world’s leading contemporary sculptors. Very interesting.
I check out the hot water bottles. The “boxes.” The door. I hear the echos of the other patrons’ whispers. Should I whisper, too? Examining the displays a little closer, I realize the hot water bottles are casts of the interior of each vessel. Each “box” is a mold of the underside of a chair. The door is simply an impression of its exterior. Now, the negative space is clear.
Whiteread is casting the blank space inside the hot water bottle, around the chair, on the exterior of the door to create her work. Essentially, she is recreating the mold that was or could have been used to create the object. She is taking the subject back to its origin and preserving the memory of its form and every memory it holds from its creation to its time of casting.
In Whiteread’s own words, “In a way. It’s almost like taking photographs or making prints of the space. If those parts of the building don’t exit later, I’ll still have, as you say, the archive of the place.’’ A blueprint, if you will. As stated, her work transcends the blueprint. She has also “found a way to make memories solid.” For it is in that space, the memory takes place.
Though each cast of each door can be used to re-create a door, each cast holds the memory of a knock; its opening to a first date or a soldier returning home from war. Each cast of each hot water bottle holds the memory of a home remedy. A mother’s touch. Comfort.
Her works range in size, material and color. From a tiny toilet paper roll to a full sale Victorian house which earned her the aforementioned Turner Prize; from resin to concrete; from translucent to pink…she explores similarities and differences.
Though the door casts are similar, each has its own knicks and scrapes from years of knocks, or as Whiteread has more eloquently stated, “the residue of years and years of use.” And though we may not have ever knocked on that particular door, we all share a memory of knocking on some door, somewhere, some time; and therein, lies the experience, similar yet different.
It’s 5:00. The exhibit is closing. I’m hungry anyway. As I leave, I return to the door from which I entered. I am walking more slowly now. There is no hurry. The echo of my stride is a much more familiar echo. Tap….tappptappptappp. Tap…tappptappptappp. Tap…tappptappptappp. Similar yet different than an hour before. Just one of the memories the space between these walls hold. Hmmm. I wonder if my barefeet would produce an echo?
The exhibit is on display Tuesday through Sunday, March 17 to June 9 at the St. Louis Art Museum. (1 Fine Arts Drive). Tickets are $6 to $12 except for Fridays. Friday, tickets are free. For more information visit www.slam.org.
If you had a chance to see the exhibit, what was your take away? Comments welcome.
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