Having hit the big 5-oh earlier this year, the last thing I need these days is a reminder of the transience of life.
As I’m in denial, it took my friend Sally several months to nail me down to a day together to celebrate. Meeting at Tate Britain, it was to be the Rachel Whiteread exhibition followed by lunch in the very fine Rex Whistler restaurant.
My heart sank a bit at the suggestion because I tend to think of the YBAs as one-trick ponies with overly-laboured concepts. And often not enough sheer craft to bring those somewhat arid concepts to life.
But Sally persisted, and the promise of a good lunch tipped the balance.
You may remember Rachel Whiteread first entering national consciousness with her casting of the interior of an entire house in East London in 1993. I remember thinking it was an intriguing idea, to record the traces of the numerous families that had once occupied the soon-to-be-demolished building with all its nooks and crannies. Intriguing, but possibly not particularly interesting to view in the flesh?
The Tate show opens with other pieces from her early years. Often domestic objects from ordinary lives. Rendered in a very pared-back palette of pallid plaster tones. Mournful, but deeply touching, and surprisingly beautiful.
The show is chronological and we follow Whiteread’s progress as she becomes more and more masterful in her mould-making and choice of casting media. She evolves from using plaster to resins - initially opaque and tinted in elemental tones of grey, beige, brown. And then gradually becoming translucent and eventually crystalline, with ever more zinging colour choices. Also, using sherbet-tinted plaster and even papier mâché.
You have to go and see it to really get it. But I couldn’t resist showing you these pictures of a series of small objects rendered in fruit pastille shades. In the choice of colour palette, they bring to mind a garden design moodboard I did last year for a sort of luxuriant modern pleasure garden in Hertfordshire. In addition to certain natural landscape images I collected shots for the moodboard of works by Dan Flavin and Josef Albers. Wish I’d known more about what Rachel Whiteread was up to then.
All this to say that the show was definitely worth it: an uplifting journey from mournful bleached monocolour to colour-drenched clarity. And lunch was pretty damn good too.