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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Containers Contained

I was in London recently. Spent a couple of days in the Tate Modern. It was my last chance to see the current much-criticized curatorial arrangement. Next spring it's leaving behind its thematic arrangement and going to a more conventional chronological one. But as you know, I have an obsession with boxes, so I was rather pleased with what was currently in the Turbine Hall. And I was disappointed.

The Unilever Series

Rachel Whiteread is the latest artist to create an exhibit for this most magnificent of spaces. Embankment, is the current commission in the Unilever series.

The View Looking Down

From the ledge which crosses the middle of the space you are looking down on Mayan piles of sugar lumps. In reality each white lump is one of several different models of boxes from which Rachel made molds and then created resin casts. Did I like it?

Monumental Spaces

Well, yes, to a point. It's the Turbine Hall though. Is there a more challenging space for an artist on the planet - indoors? Rachel's arctic Giants' Causeway is a huge work, but in the Turbine Hall it is confined to just the eastern end and rises, relatively, to not a great height. A shame that the space should so define it, but it does - that's the point of the Unilever series. Whiteread is a fabulously talented monumental artist, and Embankment is a monumental work. How fabulous it would be outdoors. Never mind the plinth, imagine this in Trafalgar Square. Walking among the white boxes, looking down on them, is thoroughly enjoyable - but somewhere else. Even somewhere else indoors - a smaller room.

Size Matters

Given that she designed it for this space, it seems harsh to criticize the impact of the space - but after two days of looking down and walking among I left Embankment wishing it was six times the size it was, filling the Turbine Hall from end to end and rising way up past the middle platform so that even there you would be walking in it as well as looking down on it.

Directions To Build Your Own Box

And my favorite part was the books on sale in the shop which were hundreds of templates for building your own boxes. Great will-power prevented me from spending my money.

Paul Dorrell says:

"I know many sculptors who never bother with maquettes when creating a monumental work on speculation."


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