The present work belongs to a group of library-related sculptures initiated in 1995 and continued through the early 2000s, the period around which Whiteread’s Vienna Holocaust Memorial design was selected, vigorously debated, and finally unveiled in 2000. Conceived as a site-specific response to the Judenplatz, the old Jewish quarter of Vienna, the memorial presents a square concrete cast of a library whose doors remain permanently sealed and whose books face inward. Whiteread’s monument acknowledged that, for The People of the Book, “the book epitomises heritage and endurance in the face of displacement and Diaspora; it is seen as a symbol of sanctuary for Jewish learning and for the continuance of tradition”, and alluded to historical instances of book burning by repressive and despotic forces (Andrea Schlieker, 'Pause for Thought: The Public Sculptures of Rachel Whiteread', in: Exh. Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery (and travelling), Rachel Whiteread, 2001, pp. 60-61). While bureaucratic processes and political disagreement delayed the construction of Whiteread’s memorial for several years, she explored the visual language of book repositories, making this theme a significant chapter of her output.
Untitled (Blue and Green.1) follows from such iconic projects as House (1993), the controversial cast of a condemned Victorian terrace house in Hackney, for which Whiteread became the first woman to win the Turner Prize. On the continuity between the bookshelves and her earlier works, Whiteread has explained: “as one develops as an artist, the language becomes the language of the pieces you have made previously, building up a thesaurus, really. A lot of my work is influenced by earlier work, as well as the decrepit libraries of Hackney or the junk shops” (Rachel Whiteread cited in: Exh. Cat., Berlin, Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, Rachel Whiteread: Transient Spaces, 2001-02, pp. 140-41). As with House, casting the bookshelves involves violently destroying them, literally ripping the books from the hardened plaster, sometimes leaving fragments of paper lodged permanently into the surface. Depending on Whiteread’s intention, the plaster may also absorb colours from the book pages, as in Untitled (Blue and Green.1) where rectangular bands of bled blue and yellow punctuate the white surface at intervals. Resembling Donald Judd’s minimalist wall installations, Whiteread’s sculptures nevertheless depart from the minimalist tradition in that their indexical nature haunts the spaces they inhabit. The voids along the shelves prompt the viewer to supply their own narratives and knowledge, begetting an active process of questioning: what has been taken away? Why? How might it have looked before? Succinctly expressing her iconic approach to the sculptural object, Untitled (Blue and Green.1) presents an evocative meditation on the art object and the written word.
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