Celebrating Contemporary: Rachel Whiteread's Untitled (Stairs)

  • 19 September 2011

The first of this week's Celebrating Contemporary features looks at the work of Turner Prize-winner Rachel Whiteread...

Untitled (Stairs), Rachel Whiteread, 2001 © Rachel Whiteread

Untitled (Stairs), Rachel Whiteread, 2001

The first of this week's Celebrating Contemporary features looks at a monolithic sculpture by Turner Prize-winner Rachel Whiteread.

The work

Untitled (Stairs) is a plaster cast of one of the industrial staircases of a building in Bethnal Green owned by Whiteread. It captures the 'negative space' of the stairwell, the arrangement of its two staircases adding to the sculpture's abstract qualities.

The building from which the cast for Untitled (Stairs) was taken was bombed during the blitz, and had been used as a synagogue and textile warehouse. As a 'ghost' of the space it represents, Whiteread's sculpture is evocative of the history of the building. The piece was bought for the Tate Collection with help from the Art Fund in 2002.

The artist

British sculptor Rachel Whiteread is best known for her casts of the 'negative spaces' of buildings, rooms and spaces. Her 1990 sculpture Ghost cast an entire room from a house in the East End of London in negative, with features such as the fireplace and door handles appearing as indentations. A later work, House, did the same with an entire Victorian building.

Whiteread's ability to make absences tangible have led many to associate her work with death and loss, leading to her commision for the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial in Vienna. She won the Turner Prize in 1993, and was the third artist to create a sculpture for Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth. 

Did you know?

In 1993, Whiteread won both the Turner Prize for Britain's best contemporary artist and the K Foundation's 'Anti-Turner' prize for the worst artist in Britain – quite a mixed reception!

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